Remembering Long-term Positive and Negative Memories: The Curse and The Shock
How the emotional valence of an experience affects memory accuracy has been investigated in three studies of public events (Bohn & Berntsen, 2007; Kensinger & Schacter, 2006; Levine & Bluck, 2004). These studies all found that individuals who evaluated an event positively remembered details less accurately, but felt greater confidence or vividness in their memories, than those who evaluated the event negatively. However, individuals who viewed an event positively likely differed in many ways from those who viewed that event negatively. The present study therefore investigated accuracy and vividness of long-term memory for two comparable public events, chosen so that those who experienced one event as positive likely experienced the other as negative, and vice versa. The events were the deciding games in the 2003 and 2004 Major League Baseball (MLB) American League Championship Series between the Yankees (2003 winners) and Red Sox (2004 winners). In 2008, 1563 fans who reported having attended, watched, or read about both games completed questionnaires that asked them to recognize details and indicate subjective memories about the games.Both between and within groups, fans remembered the positively valenced game (the one their team won) significantly more accurately than the negatively valenced game. Fans also reported more vividness and more rehearsal for the game their team won versus the game their team lost. Self-reported rehearsal mediated the effects of valence on accuracy, and partially mediated the effects of valence on vividness. While rehearsal led to accuracy in our study, in other situations factual inaccuracies may be rehearsed and that could lead to inaccurate memories. We conclude that valence of an event affects what gets rehearsed rather than the accuracy of recall. Positive events are more likely than negative events to be rehearsed, but that rehearsal could lead to either increased or decreased accuracy. Additionally, we investigated how age affects memory for the positive and negative events. The older adults were less accurate, and reported less vividness and rehearsal, than younger adults, but no differential positivity effect was found for older adults.
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