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Emotion. 2011 Feb;11(1):12-9. doi: 10.1037/a0020288.

Emotion enhanced retention of cognitive skill learning.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Toronto,Toronto, ON, Canada.


Ample evidence suggests that emotional arousal enhances declarative/episodic memory. By contrast, there is little evidence that emotional enhancement of memory (EEM) extends to procedural skill based memory. We examined remote EEM (1.5-month delay) for cognitive skill learning using the weather prediction (WP) probabilistic classification task. Participants viewed interleaved emotionally arousing or neutral pictures during WP acquisition. Arousal retarded initial WP acquisition. While participants in the neutral condition showed substantial forgetting of WP learning across the 1.5-month delay interval, the arousal condition showed no evidence of forgetting across the same time period. Thus, arousal during encoding determined the mnemonic fate of cognitive skill learning. Emotional enhancement of WP retention was independent of verbally stated knowledge of WP learning and EEM for the picture contexts in which learning took place. These results reveal a novel demonstration of EEM for cognitive skill learning, and suggest that emotional arousal may in parallel enhance the neural systems that support procedural learning and its declarative context.

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