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Sleeping Brain Determines What Part of Emotional Information Gets Stored

Update Date: Dec 19, 2012 07:50 AM EST

A new study suggests that emotional memories like witnessing a car wreck or encountering a poisonous snake get imprinted in our memories. However, how exactly our brain processes these situations and what part of it gets stored in our memory and what doesn't is apparently determined by our sleeping brain.   

A new study by researchers from University of Notre Dame, Jessica Payne and Alexis Chambers, suggests that people who experienced rapid eye movement (REM) sleep soon after witnessing an emotionally-charged negative scene had superior memory for the emotional object compared to participants of the study who slept only 16 hours after witnessing the incident. Also, they found that the increased memory of the emotional object was in correspondence to a rather faded memory of the objects surrounding it, like the place where the incident occurred, or the exact place where they saw the object etc.

The results of the current findings suggest that the sleeping brain stores long-term memory of only those scenes that are significant emotionally and are helpful for adaptation.

"Our results suggest that REM sleep, which has long been thought to play a role in emotional processing and emotional memory, helps us selectively preserve in memory only what is most important and perhaps beneficial to survival," says Payne, a Notre Dame assistant professor of psychology who specializes in sleep's impact on memory, creativity and the ability to process new ideas.

Emotionally significant events occupy a major part of our memories and also contribute to shaping our personalities, represent defeats and achievements, mark milestones in our lives and often drive anxiety and mood disorders, the report said.

The study findings suggest that when we sleep, not only does the brain merge all the recently encountered information, but also stores the most significant information.

The study was published recently in Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience.

 

 

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