Poster B12, Sunday, March 25, 8:00-10:00 am, Exhibit Hall C
Brain mechanisms by which emotional learning selectively and retroactively enhances memory for related information
David Clewett1, Darren Yi1, Joseph Dunsmoor2, Elizabeth Phelps1, Lila Davachi1; 1New York University, 2The University of Texas at Austin
Recent work in humans demonstrates that emotional learning can selectively and retroactively enhance memory for conceptually related neutral information that would otherwise be forgotten (Dunsmoor et al., 2015). However, the mechanisms underlying this retrograde memory enhancement are unclear. Because this effect only emerges after a delay, one possibility is that emotional learning biases post-encoding consolidation processes. Another possibility is that prior representations reactivate during new learning, enabling emotional events to facilitate memory for overlapping past and present information. Here, we tested these possibilities in humans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In a two-phase learning paradigm, participants first viewed images of neutral tools and animals intermixed with neutral scene images (pre-conditioning). Approximately 6 minutes later, participants viewed another stream of neutral tool and animal images, while one of the visual categories was conditioned with shock. Memory for all objects was tested 24 hours later. To examine learning-related changes in functional connectivity, resting-state scans were collected immediately before and after the conditioning phase. Across participants, learning-related changes in resting connectivity between hippocampus, VTA/SN, and shock-paired category-selective cortex were associated with greater emotion-biased retroactive memory enhancement. Furthermore, during conditioning, individuals who showed greater activity in scene-selective cortex while viewing shocked versus non-shocked objects, an index of pre-conditioning phase context reactivation, also exhibited greater emotion-related retroactive memory enhancement. These findings suggest that reinstating prior learning contexts during emotional experiences - along with increased selectivity in post-encoding dopaminergic neuromodulation - can determine the selection and storage of neutral experiences in long-term episodic memory.
Topic Area: EMOTION & SOCIAL: Emotion-cognition interactions