How your Memory is Affected by Emotions and How to Reduce Stress

wonder technique

Memory and Emotions

Did you ever have the experience in which someone you love gets upset at you about something and he or she get emotional and in response you get emotional? Then during the intense moments he or she tells you why they are upset and ‘oh, no!’ afterwards when all is calm you do not remember exactly what they got upset about?

The reason this happens is because of how your human memory and recall system works.

Researcher Endel Tulving studied memory and recall for many years and first published in 1972 that our memory is most effective when the conditions at the time of encoding (the creation of the memory) match the conditions at the time of retrieval.

Encoding is impacted by our context and our state.

Context-dependent memory refers to improved memory recall when a person is in the same physical location or surroundings as to when the memory took place. This is why we often find lost keys when we return to the place we last remember having them.

State-dependent memory, similar to state dependent learning, refers to improved memory recall when you are in the same state of consciousness as to when the memory was formed.

So if you are in an angry emotional state and the reason for the conflict is shared, it can be difficult for you to remember what was said when you are not in an angry emotional state. For example, someone tells you they are upset and you start feeling anxious and the other person in high emotion shares why they are upset, when you are not feeling anxious the memory can be difficult for you to access.

Potentially, this can explain why someone that is upset with you and while they are upset they start to remember in the angry moment all the negative things about you that make them angry since the memory of what they do not like about you is attached to anger. This is how things can spiral emotionally out of control.

This is why to manage negative stress and nourish better relationships it is much better that the person who is upset with you tell you why they are upset after they (and you) are calm again. It can also be very helpful if the upset person takes the time to write down why they are upset. When they write down why they are upset it can help bring clarity to the situation. It also gives the person who they were upset with the opportunity to sit and reflect on the reason calmly. Writing down the ‘annoyance’ can also help the offended person recognize if the reason they were upset was in fact a really big deal or not, a lesson of self awareness is created.

The inspiration for this article came from my study in Psychology and also noticing how so true this form of memory plays out in life.

Sample source:

Tulving, E. (1972). Episodic and semantic memory. In E. Tulving and W. Donaldson (Eds.), Organization of Memory (pp. 381–402). New York: Academic Press.

I hope this short article brings more peace and happiness to your life.

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On the journey,