Emotional Part-Set Cueing Effects (Sison & Mather, 2007).

In the part-set cueing effect, cueing a subset of previously studied items impairs recall of the remaining non-cued items (e.g., Brown, 1968; Slamecka, 1968). For example, reminding someone that they studied the word "banana" on a word list can actually make it harder for them to recall that they also studied the word "pear."

Is it possible the same effect would occur for emotional memories? If so, being reminded of a amusing memory should decrease the likelihood of recalling another amusing memory.

To test this, we showed participants a series of pictures from different emotional (amusing vs. fear) and actor (animal vs. people) categories. A few example pictures are shown below.

In a second phase, participants were given cues to retrieve of all the pictures from one of the categories (e.g., all the amusing people pictures).

In the final phase, participants were asked to recall as many of the pictures as they could. As shown below, memory impairment for non-cued pictures depended on which category structure we had mentioned in the initial instructions.

Thus, new events can be organized in memory using emotion as a grouping function to create associations. However, whether new information is organized in memory along emotional or nonemotional lines appears to be a flexible process that depends upon one's current focus.

This study demonstrates that an emotion-based organization of memory can leave people vulnerable to category-based memory phenomena along emotional lines, such as impaired memory for information that evokes the same emotion as practiced information.

Furthermore, it reveals that emotional stimuli are not automatically organized in memory along emotional lines. Which organization scheme people use depends on what structure is most salient.

This finding that emotion-based memory organization only occurs when emotion is salient has implications for other memory phenomena. For example, mood-congruent memory should be more likely to occur when people are using emotion as a way to structure information than when other categories are more salient, which may explain why mood-congruent memory effects often do not occur when moods are evoked in ways that do not call attention to emotions (Hartig et al., 1999; Hasher et al., 1985; Parrott & Sabini, 1990).


Sison, J. A. G., & Mather, M. (2007). Does remembering emotional items impair recall of same-emotion items? Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14, 282-287.


Brown, J. (1968). Reciprocal facilitation and impairment in free recall. Psychonomic Science, 10, 41-42.

Hartig, T., Nyberg, L., Nilsson, L. G., & Garling, T. (1999). Testing for mood congruent recall with environmentally induced mood. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 19, 353-367.

Hasher, L., Rose, K. C., Zacks, R. T., Sanft, H., & Doren, B. (1985). Mood, recall, and selectivity effects in normal college students. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 114, 104-118.

Parrott, W. G., & Sabini, J. (1990). Mood and memory under natural conditions: Evidence for mood incongruent recall. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 59, 321-336.

Slamecka, N. J. (1968). An examination of trace storage in free recall. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 76, 504-513.

Related Paper

Barnier, A. J., Hung, L., & Conway, M. A. (2004). Retrieval-induced forgetting of emotional and unemotional autobiographical memories. Cognition and Emotion, 18, 457-477.

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