How our emotions transform mundane events into strong memories

Dunsmoor, J. & Murty, V. (2015). How our memories transform mundane events into strong memories. Retrieved from

Memories are a powerful tool whose function often surpasses their definition as the process by which information is stored in the brain, encoded and retrieved. In this installation of the popular media outlet The Conversation, the authors discuss the adaptability of the human memory which allows us to recall significant information which may have been encoded as trivial at the time of occurrence. What does this have to do with emotions? We know that we tend to recall emotion eliciting information with greater clarity than emotion neutral information. This occurs via the activation of parts of the brain involved in processing emotions. The process of strengthening weak memories can be considered the opposite of this whereby an emotional experience occurring after the creation of a weak memory can strengthen the original memory. The authors use the example of having lunch with a friend to illustrate this; a casual lunch may not be deemed significant enough an event as to create a lasting memory, however, if you then find out that your friend became ill after the lunch, you are more likely to think back over the details of the meal, thereby selectively strengthening features of the original memory as a function of your emotional reaction to the news

The article goes on to discuss similar study related findings and concludes with an important message that attaching an emotion to an event or a memory provides us with vital information that can help guide effective problem solving and decision making. The process of attaching pleasant emotions to positive experiences mean that it is more likely that we will seek to replicate the experience, whereas attaching unpleasant emotions to negative experiences can help us to make decisions which may safeguard us from a similar experience. These competencies can be targeted from a young age and it is for this reason that the awareness and skills involved is a feature of the Foundations (Year 1) Aristotle Emotional Intelligence Development Program.