Growing evidence indicates that the amygdala contributes to processing both emotional stimuli and highly vivid episodic memories. The present research used event-related potentials (ERPs) to examine the individual and joint contributions of these dimensions on the neural responses to naturalistic stimuli, namely, autobiographical memories, which vary in terms of associated emotion and the vividness of recollection. In Experiment 1, participants recalled positive and negative personal memories, and memories for which no mention of emotion was made. Events recollected with high vividness showed no effect of emotion, whereas ERPs for events recollected with low vividness differed for both positive and negative memories versus non-emotional memories. The conjoint effects of emotion and vividness reflect the correlation of these variables in everyday life: more emotional memories are more vividly recalled. In Experiment 2, we pursued the interaction of emotion and vividness by asking participants to recall negative high-arousal, negative low-arousal, and emotionally neutral memories. Processing differed by vividness but not by emotion condition. The research implies that focus on the emotional valence associated with a memory, without conjoint consideration of how vividly it is recalled, neglects a critical determinant of neural processes that are modulated by the amygdala during recall of autobiographical memories.
Part of the book: The Amygdala