--Research--

How do we remember emotional experiences? Nearly every day, we encounter information that triggers an emotional response. Our research examines how such responses influence the cognitive and neural processes that allow us to remember an event. We are particularly interested in understanding the types of details that are remembered about emotional experiences, and in identifying how the affective characteristics of an experience (especially, whether they are positive or negative) influence memory.

What phases of memory are affected by emotion? Remembering a past event requires a series of processes to unfold: Information must be attended and encoded into memory, resist decay and interference over time, and be reactivated when the appropriate retrieval cue is processed. Our research examines how each of these phases of memory is affected by emotion. We also are exploring possible overlap in the mechanisms by which emotion, self-referencing, and reward influence different phases of memory.

How are the interactions between emotion and memory influenced by aging and by individual differences? Our research has demonstrated that the effects of emotion are not equal in all individuals; the effects of emotion can be influenced by individual differences in anxiety level or in cognitive control, or by the age of the person. We seek to understand the basis for these individual differences in emotional memory.

Our research approach: We combine multiple techniques and levels of analysis. We use controlled laboratory experiments to pinpoint the effects of emotion on memory, but we also are interested in the real world extensions of our findings, assessed through experiential reports and autobiographical memory assessments.

We believe that studying the brain can give further insight into why emotional memories feel subjectively vivid and contain some details but not others. To this end, we often combine behavioral testing with the use of fMRI and ERP to understand the effects of emotion at both a cognitive and neural level.

We use eyetracking to provide greater leverage on questions regarding the interactions between attention and memory, polysomnography and actigraphy to examine how sleep enables information to be retained over time, and psychophysiological recording to examine whether the bodily response present at encoding can "return" during the retrieval of an event.