As Though It Were Yesterday
Who among us hasn't marveled that we can recall with striking clarity our memories of emotionally charged events from long ago? If the recollections are positive – your child's first steps, the day you got a promotion and a raise, the surprise birthday party your family gave you – then you get a mental health boost by reliving the happy moments. However, psychologists at the University of Toronto say that this phenomenon of vivid recall works against us when we remember unpleasant scenarios.
The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Neuroscience.A release from the university quotes lead author Rebecca Todd as saying, “We’ve discovered that we see things that are emotionally arousing with greater clarity than those that are more mundane . . . We call this ‘emotionally enhanced vividness’ and it is like the flash of a flashbulb that illuminates an event as it’s captured for memory.”
By studying brain activity, Todd and colleagues discovered that the part of the brain responsible for tagging the emotional or motivational importance of things according to one’s own past experience – the amygdala – is more active when looking at images that are rated as vivid. “The experience of more vivid perception of emotionally important images seems to come from a combination of enhanced seeing and gut feeling driven by amygdala calculations of how emotionally arousing an event is,” she said.