When Side Matters: Hemispheric Processing and the Visual Specificity of Emotional Memories

  • Kensinger E
  • Choi E
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Previous studies have shown that the right hemisphere processes the visual details of objects and the emotionality of information. These two roles of the right hemisphere have not been examined concurrently. In the present study, the authors examined whether right hemisphere processing would lead to particularly good memory for the visual details of emotional stimuli. Participants viewed positive, negative, and neutral objects, displayed to the left or right of a fixation cross. Later, participants performed a recognition task in which they evaluated whether items were "same" (same visual details), "similar" (same verbal label, different visual details), or "new" (unrelated) in comparison with the studied objects. Participants remembered the visual details of negative items well, and this advantage in memory specificity was particularly pronounced when the items had been presented directly to the right hemisphere (i.e., to the left of the fixation cross). These results suggest that there is an episodic memory benefit conveyed when negative items are presented directly to the right hemisphere, likely because of the specialization of the right hemisphere for processing both visual detail and negatively valenced emotional information.

Author-supplied keywords

  • emotion
  • hemisphere
  • laterality
  • memory
  • visual field

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  • Elizabeth A. Kensinger

  • Elizabeth S. Choi

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