Bottling up your emotions does not help your ability to memorize or retain memories, according to a study at Stanford University. Holding back emotions can actually poison you ability to make decisions, learn and perform certain functions.

Researchers in the Stanford study, Drs. Jane Richards and James Gross, stated that although cardiovascular changes do occur in the body when emotions are suppressed, that does not have an effect on the memory. They believe memory is impaired because of an unrelated shift in the brain during emotional suppression that redirects the brain’s neurons away from memory processing.

Female undergraduate students were used as test studies for the research. They were shown slides of people who had sustained different types of injuries, from slight to very serious. They were asked to react to the slides as they normally would, or show no emotion at all. The results were published in The Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, showing that the degree of injury to the victim didn’t make any difference, but if emotions were suppressed the processing of information (cognition), especially when it came to short-term memory, was adversely affected.

There have been numerous studies that show emotions actually have a powerful impact on our ability to remember. When we look back and recall memories from our past (autobiographical memories) we do so with emotion, reliving the events as if we were still there. We recall our grandmother’s kitchen at Christmas, with the smell of gingerbread permeating the house. We remember how much fun we had when dad took us to our first baseball game, and how great the hot dogs were! These are vivid memories that have stayed in our long-term file because the emotions we felt, and the senses we took in, are things we want to remember forever.

Through the course of human development we can trace our emotional memory retention to our early ancestors, who used trial and error as a way to find their way in the world. Survival was dependent on remembering what was dangerous, and what was usable. Genetically, this “flight or flight” instinct became imbedded in all species, including human, and as we continue to evolve the instincts are retained in our gene cells and passed on through generations.

When meeting new people, who are the ones you will remember later? They are the ones who evoked an emotional response, such as making you laugh, or making a point that made you angry. An emotional impact is something you remember.

The limbic system, the emotional portion of your brain, is in charge of transferring information into memory. Emotions and memory are very closely related.  From years of experiments scientists now know that the main location for this transfer is a portion of the temporal lobe called the hippocampus, which is absolutely necessary for making new memories! The hippocampus is the area first affected by Alzheimer’s disease, and is known to be directly affected by estrogen levels (which may be why more women get Alzheimer’s than men.).

The body has the ability to automatic eliminate toxins through its system. The brain itself is not so fortunate. By expressing toxic thoughts we purge our brains of the poison, by repressing these thoughts we build up the toxins that can block memory and the ability to learn. Our emotions guide our memory, and the impact can be good or bad, but by holding them in you will not be allowed to either release them or refer them on to long-term memory.

About the author:

Ron White is a  memory keynote speaker. He speaks at seminars and to large groups all over the world on how to improve memory and memory techniques.




Wikipedia: Emotion and Memory – Suppressing Emotions During Unpleasant Events May Affect Memory Recall –

Ezine: Holding Back Emotions Can Cause Anxiety, Depression And Insomnia – Journal Writing Can Help – Memory, Learning, and Emotion: the Hippocampus –