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Are You Really Remembering It as All Sunshine and Rainbows? The Positivity Effect in Cognitive Aging 

November 12th, 2022 No comments

In a phone conversation with my mom following our family’s week-long trip to Sebago Lake this past summer, my grandma thanked my family for inviting her along for “the most wonderful week.” When my mom recounted this interaction to me, I couldn’t help but wonder whether my grandma had actually had such a “wonderful” week. After all, the vacation did not really go as planned: my brother left for Colby hall staff duties after only a day; I spent the bulk of the week alternating between doing remote internship work and sleeping to recover from my hectic summer job; my dad worked for almost the entire week, so we only saw him at meals; and, for the cherry on top, my grandma had recently suffered a severe compression fracture in her back that had left her in pain and fairly immobile. 

My grandma and me, circa 2017. She is the greatest!

It’s very possible that my grandma was just grateful for a week in close geographical proximity to my family, especially given she had been a fairly long drive away from us, cooped up inside with a broken back until right before the trip (she moved up near my family home a few weeks before our vacation). However, it is also possible that my grandma was actually remembering our trip in a positive way – maybe even in a more positive way than she had experienced it. Although I’ll never know which is true, my grandma may have been exhibiting the positivity effect in that phone conversation with my mom.

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Categories: Aging Tags: ,

Mood-Congruent Memory and Depression: A Vicious, Unrelenting Cycle

November 20th, 2020 No comments

Imagine this: You enter your dorm room after a long, difficult day, and you’re in a bad mood. You’ve been in the library all afternoon, you’re drenched to the core from walking back in the rain, and you still have what feels like an actual mountain of homework left. As you’re unpacking your bag, events from the day run through your mind, and they’re all negative: the test that didn’t go so well, the lunch that wasn’t great, the workout that felt particularly hard… the list goes on. Your day was not entirely bad, yet you’re only able to remember the not-so-great moments.

If you can relate to the above story, you’ve experienced the effects of mood-congruent memory, which is the idea that the memories we retrieve tend to be consistent with our current emotional state. This explains why people who are in a bad mood recall negative memories, and the same goes for all types of moods. Mood-congruency affects people’s attention, too, but I’m going to focus on memory. Essentially, individuals’ moods dictate the types of memories to which they have access, which in turn reinforce their current mood state. This can be helpful when the positive memories contribute to the happy mood, and it’s generally not a big deal when the bad mood is temporary, since the negative memories will likely soon be replaced by more cheerful ones. That being said, the reciprocal relationship between mood and memory can be dangerous when the sad mood state is constant. Consider, for instance, individuals who suffer from depression.

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