How brain gives special resonance to emotional memories

ween emotion- and memory-related brain regions. Thus, they first exposed volunteer subjects to a collection of pictures that evoked both positive and negative emotions and those that were neutral. Emotional pictures depicted such negative events as aggressive acts or injured people and such positive events as romantic scenes or sporting triumphs. Neutral pictures included such subjects as buildings or scenes of routine shopping.

While viewing the emotional and neutral pictures, participants brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Such imaging involves the use of harmless magnetic fields and radio signals to measure blood flow to individual brain regions, which reflects greater activity in those regions. Then, following the scanning session, the researchers tested participants memory for the images they viewed during the scanning.

Two important features distinguish the new study from previous functional neuroimaging studies, said the researchers. First, to identify the brain regions associated with the memory-enhancing effect of emotion, the study identified the brain regions whose activity during memory formation predicts what items would be remembered or forgotten (encoding success). Thus, it was possible to compare successful encoding activity for emotional and neutral items.

Second, to delineate the contribution of the emotion and memory-related regions during emotional memory formation, the study used precise anatomical methods, which involved tracing of these regions on each subject's brain image. Thus, it was possible to precisely localize the signal coming from anatomically proximal brain regions. As expected, analysis of the behavioral data revealed evidence that the memories of emotional images were more strongly encoded than the neutral ones. And importantly, the brain scans showed that the emotional memories evoked activity in the amygdala as well as the "medial temporal lobe memory" structures.

Contact: Dennis Meredith
Duke University

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