Only “efficient” emotional stimuli affect the content of working memory during free-recollection from natural scenes

Arianna Buttafuoco, Tiziana Pedale, Tony W. Buchanan, Valerio Santangelo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Emotional events are thought to have privileged access to attention and memory, consuming resources needed to encode competing emotionally neutral stimuli. However, it is not clear whether this detrimental effect is automatic or depends on the successful maintenance of the specific emotional object within working memory. Here, participants viewed everyday scenes including an emotional object among other neutral objects followed by a free-recollection task. Results showed that emotional objects—irrespective of their perceptual saliency—were recollected more often than neutral objects. The probability of being recollected increased as a function of the arousal of the emotional objects, specifically for negative objects. Successful recollection of emotional objects (positive or negative) from a scene reduced the overall number of recollected neutral objects from the same scene. This indicates that only emotional stimuli that are efficient in grabbing (and then consuming) available attentional resources play a crucial role during the encoding of competing information, with a subsequent bias in the recollection of neutral representations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalCognitive Processing
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Nov 17 2017


  • Capacity
  • Emotion
  • Free recollection
  • Salience
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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