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Feelings Make Stronger Memories

Update Date: Sep 25, 2013 05:27 PM EDT
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Feelings make memories stronger, new research suggests.

A new study reveals that bad experiences boost memory formation about places. Researchers found that associating negative imagery with specific locations activates the parahippocampal cortex, a brain region responsible for forming memory of places during navigation.

"This heightened recall occurs automatically, without people even being aware that the negative imagery is affecting their memories," lead researcher Dr Oliver Baumann from the Queensland Brain Institute said in a news release. "It could serve as a cue for avoiding potential threats."

"Our findings show that emotions can exert a powerful influence on spatial and navigational memory for places," Baumann explained. "In future we might be able to boost memory functions by triggering the positive side-effects of emotional arousal, while avoiding the need for negative experiences."

In the study researchers built a "virtual house" and staged events in each room unrelated to the subject navigating the house.

Researchers said that the events varied in their rate of occurrence and were designed to trigger certain emotional responses.

"The events were illustrated using images from the International Affective Picture System library and included dramatic scenes of attack and threat, as well as more pleasant imagery," Baumann said.

One day after navigating through the "virtual house" participants were asked to look at static images of the house without the emotional imagery, while researchers monitored their brains under an MRI scanner.

"The results showed that emotional arousal exerted a powerful influence on memory by enhancing parahippocampal activity," Baumann concluded.

The findings are published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

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