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Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2017 Aug;17(4):737-753. doi: 10.3758/s13415-017-0509-9.

ERP evidence for the control of emotional memories during strategic retrieval.

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Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC), School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, CF24 4HQ, Wales, UK.


Neural evidence for the strategic retrieval of task-relevant 'target' memories at the expense of less relevant 'nontarget' memories has been demonstrated across a wide variety of studies. In ERP studies, this evidence consists of the ERP correlate of recollection (i.e. the 'left parietal old/new effect') being evident for targets and attenuated for nontargets. It is not yet known, however, whether this degree of strategic control can be extended to emotionally valenced words, or whether these items instead reactivate associated memories. The present study used a paradigm previously employed to demonstrate the strategic retrieval of neutral words (Herron & Rugg, Psychonomic Bulletin and & Review, 10(3), 703--710, 2003b) to assess the effects of stimulus valence on behavioural and event-related potential (ERP) measures of strategic retrieval. While response accuracy and reaction times associated with targets were unaffected by valence, negative nontargets and new items were both associated with an elevated false alarm rate and longer RTs than their neutral equivalents. Both neutral and negative targets and nontargets elicited early old/new effects between 300 and 500 ms. Critically, whereas neutral and negative targets elicited robust and statistically equivalent left parietal old/new effects between 500 and 800 ms, these were absent for neutral and negative nontargets. A right frontal positivity associated with postretrieval monitoring was evident for neutral targets versus nontargets, for negative versus neutral nontargets, and for targets versus new items. It can therefore be concluded that the recollection of negatively valenced words is subject to strategic control during retrieval, and that postretrieval monitoring processes are influenced by emotional valence.


Cognitive control; ERP; Emotion; Episodic memory; Recollection

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