Memory of emotions persist beyond memory of the event for memory-impaired

April, 2010

A study involving severe amnesiacs has found that induced feelings of happiness or sadness persist long after the memory of the event. The findings challenge the idea that by minimizing a specific memory of past trauma, associated sadness will also decrease, and also point to the need for care in dealing with those with impaired memory — don’t assume that any induced emotion will vanish as quickly as the memory of it.

A study involving five patients with severe amnesia due to damage in the hippocampus, resulting in a condition comparable to Alzheimer's, has found that memory tests given 5-10 minutes after sad and happy film clips showed little (if any) memory of the details, but the generated emotion lasted for 20 to 30 minutes afterward. Interestingly, normal controls also felt happy for about the same length of time, but the impact of sad scenes was shorter. The findings challenge the idea that by minimizing a specific memory of past trauma, associated sadness will also decrease. Indeed, it may be that forgetting the details of unhappy events prolongs the effects. The findings also point to the need for care in dealing with those with impaired memory — don’t assume that any induced emotion will vanish as quickly as their memory of it.

Reference: 

[471] Feinstein, J. S., Duff M. C., & Tranel D.
(2010).  Sustained experience of emotion after loss of memory in patients with amnesia.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 107(17), 7674 - 7679.