The Unnoticed Absence of Emotion in Autobiographical Memory



Memory for one's own life experiences, or autobiographical memory, is impressive in its accuracy and flexibility. A memory is constructed anew at each recollection through a process of finding and temporarily joining together specific details about location, sensory experiences, and other details. Curiously missing, however, are emotional details. Although emotional experiences are well remembered, the emotional aspect of an experience is neither retained in its full intensity nor reexperienced during recollection. The adaptive benefits of omitting emotion from autobiographical memory include uninterrupted goal pursuit and emotional stability. But most people make metacognitive errors that convince them that autobiographical memories generally do contain emotion. Possible causes of these errors include naïve theories, motivation to believe that one is healthy, filling in current emotion for remembered emotion, and biased sampling of memories.