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Study finds that sleep selectively preserves emotional memories
Date:8/13/2008

BOSTON As poets, songwriters and authors have described, our memories range from misty water-colored recollections to vividly detailed images of the times of our lives.

Now, a study led by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Boston College offers new insights into the specific components of emotional memories, suggesting that sleep plays a key role in determining what we remember and what we forget.

Reported in the August 2008 issue of the journal Psychological Science, the findings show that a period of slumber helps the brain to selectively preserve and enhance those aspects of a memory that are of greatest emotional resonance, while at the same time diminishing the memory's neutral background details.

"This tells us that sleep's role in emotional memory preservation is more than just mechanistic," says the study's first author Jessica Payne, PhD, a Harvard University research fellow in the Division of Psychiatry at BIDMC. "In order to preserve what it deems most important, the brain makes a tradeoff, strengthening the memory's emotional core and obscuring its neutral background."

Previous studies have established the key role that sleep plays in procedural memory, demonstrating that the consolidation of procedural skills (such as typing or playing the piano) is greatly enhanced following a period of sleep.

But sleep's importance in the development of episodic memories in particular, those with emotional resonance has been less clear.

"Emotional memories usually contain highly charged elements for example, the car that sideswiped us on the ride home along with other elements that are only tangentially related to the emotion, such as the name of the street we were traveling on or what store we'd just passed," explains study author Elizabeth Kensinger, PhD, an Assistant Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at Boston College. "We were interested in examining
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Contact: Bonnie Prescott
bprescot@bidmc.harvard.edu
617-667-7306
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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