There has been an extensive set of research over the last 30 years which shows that we tend to have better memories for events, stories and words which have an emotional impact as opposed to emotionally neutral events. This research has also shown that events, stories and words which have negative emotional impact tend to have a stronger effect on memory than many positive emotional situations. What this means from a work-place point of view is that people are much more likely to remember the bad things that happen or even the bad stories they are told at work. Not only that but they will encode the emotion in the memory and have a negative psychological and physiological reaction to those memories. This really comes into play during times of change, especially if they have a previous negative experience or expect a negative experience of a change event.
These memory enhancing emotional events are known as event-related potentials or ERP’s and can be seen occurring with electrophysiological (EEG) data and in MRi studies. See the image.
A study just published today by researches from the Departments of Psychology at California State University and Emory University, in Atlanta found that the emotional resilience (emotion regulation) techniques that we use with clients can have an effect on peoples memory of an event or story.
What they did was show a group of people a set of emotionally charged scenes and recorded the ERP’s displayed in the brain (the emotional spikes) using an EEG. They showed the subjects a series of positive, neutral and negative emotional images. (57 positive, 55 neutral, and 62 negative images were shown). The subjects were then given a memory test between 1 and 5 days later to see which of the images they remembered and what emotional reaction they had to the recalled images.
Half of the group had been shown an emotional regulation (emotional resilience) technique just before they viewed the images and the other group wasn’t shown the technique.
What they found was that those people who had not been shown the emotional regulation technique remembered significantly more of the positive and negative images (compared to the emotionally neutral images) and were displaying both cognitive (brain) and affective (emotional - physiological) reactions to those images. They also tended to remember more of the negative images compared to the positive images. This was very much as predicted.
However the group who had been shown the emotion regulation technique remembered significantly fewer negative images than the first group and their cognitive and affective (emotional reaction) reaction to the images they did remember was much lower.
What this means is that the techniques of emotional resilience / emotion regulation reduce people’s memory retention of negative events. So not only can emotionally resilient people cope better with negative events and stories, they also remember more of the positive events and stories than the negative events and stories. This has the potential for having a massive effect in organisations, particularly during times of change, when rumour and stories run rife.
Further if you have children, studies have shown this affect works for children as young as 5.
LaBar, K.S. & Cabeza, R. (2006) Cognitive neuroscience of emotional memory. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7 (2006), pp. 54–64
Leventon, J. S., & Bauer, P. J. (2015). Emotion regulation during the encoding of emotional stimuli: Effects on subsequent memory. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.
Maratos, E.J. & Rugg, M.D. (2001) Electrophysiological correlates of the retrieval of emotional and non-emotional context Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 13 (2001), pp. 877–891