It's more than a feeling: emotions affect our ability to remember accurately
Dr Robyn Holliday from our School of Psychology collaborated with academics in the United States on the research. She and colleagues at Cornell University and the University of North Florida conducted experiments at Cornell’s Memory and Neuroscience Laboratory that show that experiences that stimulate negative emotions are very bad for the accuracy of children’s memories, but even worse for the accuracy of adults.
Children ages 7 and 11, and young adults ages 18 to 23, were shown lists of closely related emotional words – such as 'pain,' 'cut,' 'ouch,' 'cry' and 'injury.' In each list some related words – such as 'hurt' – were left out. When asked to recognise words from the list, respondents would often mistakenly remember 'hurt' as one of the words. These mistakes allowed researchers to determine the level of emotion-induced false memory at each age.
This study will probably have the greatest influence in the courtroom, where many cases are decided upon witness testimony. Not only does it add to a growing number of studies casting doubt on the reliability of our memory, but it contradicts the prevailing logic that children are the ones most susceptible to ‘mis-remembering’ events.