Despite widespread belief that memory is enhanced by emotion, evidence also suggests that emotion can impair memory. Here we test predictions inspired by object-based binding theory, which states that memory enhancement or impairment depends on the nature of the information to be retrieved. We investigated emotional memory in the context of source retrieval, using images of scenes that were negative, neutral or positive in valence. At study each scene was paired with a colour and during retrieval participants reported the source colour for recognised scenes. Critically, we isolated effects of valence by equating stimulus arousal across conditions. In Experiment 1 colour borders surrounded scenes at study: memory impairment was found for both negative and positive scenes. Experiment 2 used colours superimposed over scenes at study: valence affected source retrieval, with memory impairment for negative scenes only. These findings challenge current theories of emotional memory by showing that emotion can impair memory for both intrinsic and extrinsic source information, even when arousal is equated between emotional and neutral stimuli, and by dissociating the effects of positive and negative emotion on episodic memory retrieval.
- Memory impairment
- Source memory