Emotional intensity predicts autobiographical memory experience.
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College students generated autobiographical memories from distinct emotional categories that varied in valence (positive vs. negative) and intensity (high vs. low). They then rated various perceptual, cognitive, and emotional properties for each memory. The distribution of these emotional memories favored a vector model over a circumplex model. For memories of all specific emotions, intensity accounted for significantly more variance in autobiographical memory characteristics than did valence or age of the memory. In two additional experiments, we examined multiple memories of emotions of high intensity and positive or negative valence and of positive valence and high or low intensity. Intensity was a more consistent predictor of autobiographical memory properties than was valence or the age of the memory in these experiments as well. The general effects of emotion on autobiographical memory properties are due primarily to intensity differences in emotional experience, not to benefits or detriments associated with a specific valence.
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