ERP correlates of the incidental retrieval of emotional information: effects of study-test delay


Prior studies indicate that, in tests of recognition memory, ERPs elicited by correctly recognized test items differ according to whether the items were encoded in an emotionally arousing or an emotionally neutral study context. These prior studies employed only a relatively brief (ca. 10 min) retention interval, however. The present study contrasted the ERP correlates of incidental emotional retrieval as a function of study-test delay. Pictures of emotionally neutral objects were encoded in association with either emotionally negative or emotionally neutral scenes. In a repeated measures design (N=19), half of the objects were subjected to a recognition memory test 10 min after completion of the study phase, whereas the remainder were tested 24 h later. After the short delay, ERPs elicited by objects paired with emotional vs. neutral backgrounds differed from around 200 ms post-stimulus, the objects paired with the emotional scenes eliciting the more positive-going waveforms. After 24 h, differences between the ERPs elicited by the two classes of object were still apparent from around 200 ms post-stimulus. Strikingly, these effects differed from those obtained 10 min after study in both their polarity and scalp distribution. The early onset of these ERP effects suggests that they may reflect a form of memory independent of the conscious recollection of the associated study contexts. The qualitative differences in the effects at the two retention intervals raise the possibility that the encoded objects were subjected to consolidation processes that differed according to the emotional attributes of their study contexts.

Brain Research, 1269, 105–113