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Impact and the recollection of emotional images
Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Cambridge
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This thesis addresses the question of what factors influence memory for negative emotional images. Previous research indicates that assessments of arousal provide the optimal determinant of memory for emotional stimuli. The aim of this thesis was to discover whether other factors can provide a better account. Five Remember/Know recognition memory experiments were conducted. The result consistently showed that assessments of arousal were not sufficient to explain memory effects, which were accounted for by the arousing items' greater distinctiveness. Instead, assessments of impact were the best predictors of 'Remember' responding, even when arousal was matched. Analyses of self-report ratings showed that impact reflected the degree to which an item evoked a bodily visceral reaction, and its distinctiveness. When distinctiveness was taken into account, clear effects of impact remained. Two further experiments examining attention to images showed that impact has an effect upon viewing times, whereas arousal did not, Viewing times were highly correlated with Remember responding, indicating that heightened interest or attention at encoding is an important factor in memory for emotional images. The work reported in this thesis supports an alternative view to the arousal theory of emotional memory. Memory for negative emotional images appears to be primarily determined by the extent to which the content of the images gives rise to immediate impact. Impact itself is an amalgam of bodily visceral reactions and distinctiveness.