Emotion significantly strengthens the subjective recollective experience even when objective accuracy of the memory is not improved. Here, we examine if this modulation is related to the effect of emotion on hippocampal-dependent memory consolidation. Two critical predictions follow from this hypothesis. First, since consolidation is assumed to take time, the enhancement in the recollective experience for emotional compared to neutral memories should become more apparent following a delay. Second, if the emotion advantage is critically dependent on the hippocampus, then the effects should be reduced in amnesic patients with hippocampal damage. To test these predictions we examined the recollective experience for emotional and neutral photos at two retention intervals (Experiment 1), and in amnesics and controls (Experiment 2). Emotional memories were associated with an enhancement in the recollective experience that was greatest after a delay, whereas familiarity was not influenced by emotion. In amnesics with hippocampal damage the emotion effect on recollective experience was reduced. Surprisingly, however, these patients still showed a general memory advantage for emotional compared to neutral items, but this effect was manifest primarily as a facilitation of familiarity. The results support the consolidation hypothesis of recollective experience, but suggest that the effects of emotion on episodic memory are not exclusively hippocampally mediated. Rather, emotion may enhance recognition by facilitating familiarity when recollection is impaired due to hippocampal damage.
Sharot, T., Verfaelli, M., & Yonelinas, A. P. (2007). How emotion strengthens the recollective experience: A time-dependent hippocampal process. PLoS ONE, 2(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0001068