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Front Psychol. 2019 Mar 5;10:481. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00481. eCollection 2019.

The Fate of Emotional Memories Over a Week: Does Sleep Play Any Role?

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Department of General Psychology, University of Padua, Padua, Italy.
Neuroscience Center, University of Padua, Padua, Italy.


Although there is a wide consensus on how sleep processes declarative memories, how sleep affects emotional memories remains elusive. Moreover, studies assessing the long-term effect of sleep on emotional memory consolidation are scarce. Studies testing subclinical populations characterized by REM abnormalities are also lacking. Here we aimed to (i) investigate the fate of emotional memories and the potential unbinding (or preservation) between content and affective tone over time (i.e., 1 week), (ii) explore the role of seven nights of sleep (recorded via actigraphy) in emotional memory consolidation, and (iii) assess whether participants with self-reported mild-moderate depressive symptoms forget less emotional information compared to participants with low depression symptoms. We found that, although at the immediate recognition session emotional information was forgotten more than neutral information, a week later it was forgotten less than neutral information. This effect was observed both in participants with low and mild-moderate depressive symptoms. We also observed an increase in valence rating over time for negative pictures, whereas perceived arousal diminished a week later for both types of stimuli (unpleasant and neutral); an initial decrease was already observable at the immediate recognition session. Interestingly, we observed a negative association between sleep efficiency across the week and change in memory discrimination for unpleasant pictures over time, i.e., participants who slept worse were the ones who forgot less emotional information. Our results suggest that emotional memories are resistant to forgetting, particularly when sleep is disrupted, and they are not affected by non-clinical depression symptomatology.


actigraphy; arousal; emotional memory; sleep; time; valence

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