Sleep preserves emotional memories: Study

August 14th, 2008 - 3:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 14 (IANS) Sleep plays a key role in determining what we remember and forget by helping the brain preserve memories that evoke the greatest emotional resonance while filtering out neutral details. “This tells us that sleep’s role in emotional memory preservation is more than just mechanistic,” said the study’s co-author Jessica Payne, a Harvard University research fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre (BIDMC).

“In order to preserve what it deems most important, the brain makes a tradeoff, strengthening the memory’s emotional core and obscuring its neutral background.”

Previous studies have established the key role that sleep plays in procedural memory, demonstrating that the consolidation of procedural skills (typing or playing the piano) is greatly enhanced following a bout of sleep.

But sleep’s importance in the development of episodic memories - in particular, those with emotional resonance- has been less clear.

“Emotional memories usually contain highly charged elements - for example, the car that sideswiped us on the ride home - along with other elements that are only tangentially related to the emotion, such as the name of the street we were travelling on or what store we’d just passed,” explained co-author Elizabeth Kensinger, assistant professor at Boston College.

The authors based their study on a survey of 88 college students.

The study appeared in the August issue of Psychological Science.

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