Emotional modulation of memorability in mnemonic discrimination

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Although elements such as emotion may serve to enhance or impair memory for images, some images are consistently remembered or forgotten by most people, an intrinsic characteristic of images known as memorability. Memorability explains some of the variability in memory performance, however, the underlying mechanisms of memorability remain unclear. It is known that emotional valence can increase the memorability of an experience, but how these two elements interact is still unknown. Hippocampal pattern separation, a computation that orthogonalizes overlapping experiences as distinct from one another, may be a candidate mechanism underlying memorability. However, these two literatures have remained largely separate. To explore the interaction between image memorability and emotion on pattern separation, we examined performance on an emotional mnemonic discrimination task, a putative behavioral correlate of hippocampal pattern separation, by splitting stimuli into memorable and forgettable categories as determined by a convolutional neural network as well as by emotion, lure similarity, and time of testing (immediately and 24-hour delay). We measured target recognition, which is typically used to determine memorability scores, as well as lure discrimination, which taxes hippocampal pattern separation and has not yet been examined within a memorability framework. Here, we show that more memorable images were better remembered across both target recognition and lure discrimination measures. However, for target recognition, this was only true upon immediate testing, not after a 24-hour delay. For lure discrimination, we found that memorability interacts with lure similarity, but depends on the time of testing, where memorability primarily impacts high similarity lure discrimination when tested immediately but impacts low similarity lure discrimination after a 24-hour delay. Furthermore, only lure discrimination showed an interaction between emotion and memorability, in which forgettable neutral images showed better lure discrimination compared to more memorable images. These results suggest that careful consideration is required of what makes an image memorable and may depend on what aspects of the image are more memorable (e.g., gist vs. detail, emotional vs. neutral).

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Morales-Calva, F., & Leal, S. L. (2024). Emotional modulation of memorability in mnemonic discrimination. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 210, 107904. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2024.107904

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