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Front Integr Neurosci. 2012 Nov 21;6:108. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2012.00108. eCollection 2012.

Sleep promotes lasting changes in selective memory for emotional scenes.

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Department of Psychology, University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, IN, USA.


Although we know that emotional events enjoy a privileged status in our memories, we still have much to learn about how emotional memories are processed, stored, and how they change over time. Here we show a positive association between REM sleep and the selective consolidation of central, negative aspects of complex scenes. Moreover, we show that the placement of sleep is critical for this selective emotional memory benefit. When testing occurred 24 h post-encoding, subjects who slept soon after learning (24 h Sleep First group) had superior memory for emotional objects compared to subjects whose sleep was delayed for 16 h post-encoding following a full day of wakefulness (24 h Wake First group). However, this increase in memory for emotional objects corresponded with a decrease in memory for the neutral backgrounds on which these objects were placed. Furthermore, memory for emotional objects in the 24 h Sleep First group was comparable to performance after just a 12 h delay containing a night of sleep, suggesting that sleep soon after learning selectively stabilizes emotional memory. These results suggest that the sleeping brain preserves in long-term memory only what is emotionally salient and perhaps most adaptive to remember.


emotion; emotional memory enhancement; emotional memory formation; memory; memory consolidation; sleep; sleep and memory

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