Why we remember the past with great clarity
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Many of us remember things
from long ago as if they happened yesterday, but at times we forget what we ate
for dinner last night.
It's because how much something means to you actually influences
how you see it as well as how vividly you can recall it later, according to a
new study led by psychologists at the University of Toronto.
"We've discovered that we see things that are emotionally
arousing with greater clarity than
those that are more mundane," said Rebecca Todd, a postdoctoral fellow in U of
T's Department of Psychology and lead author of the study.
"What's more, we found that how vividly we perceive something in
the first place predicts how vividly we will remember it later on.
"We call this 'emotionally enhanced vividness' and it is like the
flash of a flashbub that illuminates an event as it's captured for memory," Todd
By studying brain activity, Todd, psychology professor Adam
Anderson and other colleagues at U of T, along with researchers at the
University of Manchester and the University
San Diego found
that the part of the brain responsible for tagging the emotional or motivational
importance of things according to one's own past experience - the amygdala - is
more active when looking at images that are rated as vivid.
This increased activation in turn influences activity in both the
visual cortex, enhancing activity linked to seeing objects, and in the posterior
insula, a region that integrates sensations from the body.
"The experience of more vivid perception of
emotionally important images seems to come from a combination of enhanced seeing
and gut feeling driven by amygdala calculations of how emotionally arousing an
event is," noted Todd.
The study was published recently in the Journal