Most of us know what it’s like to have a hangover. We drink too much and our physical state of the next day is a clear reminder of a few too many drinks the night before.
What could come as a bit of a surprise is that we are not just experiencing a hangover after too much alcohol, new research has found that there is also something as an emotional hangover!
This is probably something you’ve never heard or even thought about, but we’ve all experienced this already, we just didn’t realise it. Watching or hearing about an emotional event, affecting us or someone else, often makes us feel emotional. The other day I was watching a very dramatic scene on television and I noticed that afterwards I felt very emotional. This effect of watching an emotional event could be explained by the recently discovered theory about the emotional hangover.
Strong physiological reactions and specific brain states can be caused by emotional events or experiences and persist for a longer period of time, even after the event has already ended. Furthermore, our memory is also affected by emotional events and we’ve known for quite some time that we can remember an emotional experience better than a non-emotional one. What and how we remember is a consequence of the external world we experience and our internal state. This state colours our future experiences and affects what we later remember.
The recent study, conducted by scientists from the New York University, tested the effect of emotional stimuli on memory. They found that the subjects who were exposed to emotion-evoking stimuli first were better able to recall neutral images compared to the subjects who were exposed to neutral stimuli first. The brain states induced by emotional experiences carried over for 20/30 minutes and influenced remembering emotional as well as non-emotional experiences in the future.
These findings indicate that emotional events affect how we perceive and remember experiences in the future. This could explain why we feel the way we feel after watching certain films or series, or when we read the news. However, this also explains why we can recall receiving an important phone call much better than where in the house we’ve left our keys when we’ve lost them.
Tambini, A., Rimmele, E., Phelps, E.A., Davachi, L. (2016). Emotional Brain States carry over and enhance Future Memory Formation. Nature Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1038/nn.4468.
About the Author
Elisabeth Peters is a Psychologist offering counselling and educational consultancy. She’s passionate about developing ways of dealing with the stresses of life and significantly reducing worries.