When we experience a moment with great emotional charge In our lives (like a wedding or a breakup), we tend to remember it forever with a degree of precision that we would already like when we are memorizing the lesson for an exam. We simply remember emotionally significant moments because they are relevant to our survival.
But new research from the University of New York, published in the journal Nature, demonstrates that emotional significance can play an important role in strengthening, even, of the oldest memories. Memories that in their day were not accompanied by a significant emotional charge.
Under this premise, even if an event is insignificant when we are experiencing it, we can update the information later with an emotional element in order to strengthen memory. That is, remembering things that were not emotionally important but now are because we have introduced greater emotional burden. Retroactively. As if we had suddenly taken a nootropic that would improve our memory.
The lead author of the study, Joseph Dunsmoor, wanted to test this hypothesis as follows. In the first experiment he asked the participants to identify a series of images of animals and tools. Participants were not given any instructions to learn or remember the series of images they were seeing.
Next, the participants saw a second series of images while receiving a slight discharge through electrodes placed on the wrists (this pain served to make the second category of images with "emotional charge"). Unlike the initial session, this time the researchers asked the participants to remember the images they were seeing.
Finally, the participants saw a third series of images, without electric shocks, after being instructed to remember what they were seeing.
As expected, the memory was more efficient to remember the images accompanied by electric shocks. But they also found that the emotional learning that occurred during the second set of images influenced the way in which participants remembered the first set of images (the ones they saw without electric shocks and no need to remember them).
That is, our memories can not only travel back in time to recover the events of the past, but can be updated with new and important information.
Perhaps this evidence will eventually serve to improve learning systems based on memorization, but in any case it shows how malleable our memories are, as we already discovered in 'Forget Me' is real: we can erase and restore memories.