Emotional memories that people want to forget are sometimes hard to leave behind; especially the painful ones or the ones recorded visually may be the toughest to forget. (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill [UNCCH], 2009).Take the example when you watch the news on TV and see pictures of violence and war, it may stick in your memory more than if you read a headline on a newspaper. (Payne, 2007) Intentional forgetting help humans update their memory with new information; we often forget events, take a wrong direction, come to a switched meeting time but events like having a bad grade on an exam or a negative comment from a friend can be hard to forget (Corrigan, 2004). Because when we try to forget we mentally isolate specific information and try to block it. During this process, we make connections between our life and the emotional event which make the intentional forgetting hard as emotion makes events very noticeable and therefore highly accessible in our memory.
This result differs from previous studies of intentional forgetting and it’s relation to emotional events where they used words stimuli like “sex” or “murder” the impact of graphics or violent pictures is more powerful to change the way a person feels. The UNC study center asked 218 participants to react to pictures instead of text and concluded that the word murder, for example, didn’t made people afraid as much as the ones who saw pictures of murders which had a powerful impact on the way they feel. This research also showed that both unpleasant and pleasant emotional memories resist to intentional forgetting. The difficulty of forgetting something depends on the way that our emotions bind memories into the brain; the painful or traumatic the emotion the harder it will be to forget. However, it doesn’t mean that emotional memories can never be forgotten; if the motivation to forget is strong enough, one can completely forget an event (“Journal of Experimental Social Psychology”, 2007).
What is more interesting is that females and males have different tolerances over the intentional forgetting; woman tend to focus on negative memories because they are more exposed to emotional disorders like depression which make them increase their focus on negative emotions(Dolcos, 2008). The research conducted by Institute for Psychological Research at Universidad del Salvador used questionnaire on 71 participants which 38 of them are women. The final result revealed that both women and men who have high extroversion inclined to remember more positive events from their life. Men who have high neuroticism leaned to recall more parts of negative memories then men with low neuroticism, while both women with high and low neuroticism tended to remember negative memories over and over. This phenomenon is called rumination and is known to be associated with depression.
Depressed people feel often times sad that’s why they collect most negative memories, and as a result of their feeling of sadness they recall negative memories. So in fact it’s vicious circle. (Dolcos, 2008). Positive memories precede a more positive mood in general, so the research suggest also that if a person keeps doing enjoyable actions and change his mood to “happy” it’s more likely that the person will recall less bad memories. To conclude, our emotions are important because they shape our memories and bind them into our brains to make strong or weak memories. However, due to the plasticity of our minds, we can change our feeling/mood and therefore be able to forget painful memories if we build the right motivation.
* Payne, K. (2007). The Memories You Want To Forget,12-15.
* University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2009, August 15). The Memories You Want To Forget.
* Corrigan, E. (2004). The Impact of the Entourage on Your Memories, 23-26.
* Ku, G. (2007). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology: Emotions and memories. 105(2), 221-232.
* Dolcos, F. (2008). University of Illinois Psychology Journals, 176-184.