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Stages of memory and emotional memory


We know that memories are formed in a variety of systems that can be divided into: systems that support conscious memory and systems that store information in the unconscious . Emotional memories, unlike other memories, are stored in both types of systems.

What is emotional memory?

Emotional memory comprises learned emotional responses to various stimuli: loves, hates, rational and irrational fears, feelings of disgust, and feelings of anxiety.

When remembering an event or a situation, the individual can experience different sensations; You can experience: excitement, anger, anguish, joy, among other emotions. Of course, the emotions that are activated by a memory cannot be felt as intensely as those of a real experience, but emotional memory works by making a memory can generate emotions, whether they are pleasant or painful.

There are many situations associated with intense emotions , for example: childhood events, losses, dangerous experiences or traumatic events , these can be some of the memories that generate feelings of anguish or fear.

The confidence we have in emotional memories is not to be trusted, as the mind tends to distort these memories and they do not always show themselves as they are. This erroneous view of the memories that the mind provides us, sometimes, is to take care of the subject’s psyche through a defense mechanism.

The amygdala and emotions

The tonsil is an almond-shaped section of nerve tissue located in the temporal (lateral) lobe of the brain. Each person has two tonsils, one on each side of the brain. These are believed to be part of the limbic system within the brain, the system responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory. However, some studies claim that the tonsils function independently of the limbic system.

The amygdala  connects the cortical areas that process sensory information with the effector systems of the hypothalamus and brainstem. This is the one who sends the impulses that transmit emotions and is the center of emotional control  .  It also directly influences learning and memory.

The impulses sent by the amygdala are those that generate that before a memory, the subject expresses feelings and reacts to it. This structure (amygdala) is responsible for the perception of emotions such as anger, fear and sadness, as well as it is responsible for the control of aggression.

Before it was believed that the amygdala was the only one in charge of being able to remember emotional experiences, but according to Kensinger and Corkin (2004), the cortical and hormonal interactions sent by the amygdala are not the only means by which emotional experiences are remembered.

Research has shown that the amygdala also plays an important role in controlling sexual activity and libido in people. It can change in size and shape depending on an individual’s age, hormonal activity, and sex.

The amygdala and fear

Usually the amygdala is activated in situations of immediate fear. When our senses detect a change in our environment that could be dangerous, the amygdala is responsible for preparing the body to react and defend itself.

The amygdala reacts to traumatic events . For example, if we ever had an accident at sea, the amygdala will be in charge of processing that event and reminding us of what happened when we are near the sea, activating alertness and the emotion of fear.

The amygdala plays a central role in the experience of anxiety . This has reciprocal connections with the locus coeruleus, which is the main site in the brain that produces norepinephrine.

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Norepinephrine is an organic chemical that can function as a hormone or as a neurotransmitter. It is responsible for preparing the body to react to a threat, narrowing the blood vessels and increasing blood pressure and blood glucose levels.

People suffering from disorder stress post traumatic often are exposed to the memories of the trauma are stored in the hippocampus. The hippocampus subsequently activates the amygdala, which then activates other regions of the brain to produce a fear response.

Those who suffer from hypervigilia show an excessive state of alertness, their brain is at 100% of its sensory activity, therefore, their states of attention and sensory sensitivity tend to increase markedly. In these cases of hypervigilia, the tonsils are active for long periods of time.

Types of emotional memory

Explicit memory

Explicit memory stores information about events, learnings and own experiences, of which we are fully aware.

This type of memory presents conscious memories that can be described in words and involves both the memory of events (semantic memory) and the memory of personal experiences (episodic memory).

Implicit memory

Implicit memory unconsciously stores information about habits and abilities, and allows us to learn to do certain things without being aware of it.

This memory is expressed automatically and is difficult to verbalize  It is used to remember information that we cannot easily describe in words and are not aware of knowing.

Stages of memory

The complete memory process goes through four stages:

  • memory preservation
  • evocation of memory
  • memory recognition
  • memory location

Preservation of memory: In our consciousness our past survives, insofar as it relates to our present. The intensity of the connection between past and present makes a situation previously experienced by us lead to a latent existence or have an effective reality. The memories that are kept in our consciousness or sub-consciousness are memories that we do not want to erase.

Evocation of memory:  Moved by our current interest, we bring to consciousness something that we had momentarily forgotten. This evocation can be spontaneous or voluntary.

In spontaneous evocation, the memory comes to consciousness without prior effort, we may even think that this memory tries to get in the way of our mind and persecutes us with its continuous presence. In voluntary evocation we pursue that fugitive memory, we seek it precisely because we need it and sometimes we force it to be a participant in our daily life.

Recognition of the memory:  To achieve the recognition of a memory, it is necessary to go back to our past, to locate the memory there and relate the past situation in which that memory occurred with our current situation. The recognition of memory is only possible to the extent that this past is linked to our present. In other words, it means that the memory will be recognized if there is an assimilation of our doubtful, restless and unstable present to the certain and certain past.

Location of the memory:  The memory becomes entirely precise when we locate the instant in which it became present. We locate memories in time in the same way that we place bodies in space: we refer them to certain dates, with increasing accuracy, until we end up finding the exact moment. But in reality our memory does not look for isolated dates, it extends entirely towards our past to experience it, conquer it and assimilate it in our present.


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Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of ​​Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.

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