Although we know that emotional events enjoy a privileged status in our memories, we still have much to learn about how emotional memories are processed, stored, and how they change over time. Here we show a positive association between REM sleep and the selective consolidation of central, negative aspects of complex scenes. Moreover, we show that the placement of sleep is critical for this selective emotional memory benefit. When testing occurred 24 h post-encoding, subjects who slept soon after learning (24 h Sleep First group) had superior memory for emotional objects compared to subjects whose sleep was delayed for 16 h post-encoding following a full day of wakefulness (24 h Wake First group). However, this increase in memory for emotional objects corresponded with a decrease in memory for the neutral backgrounds on which these objects were placed. Furthermore, memory for emotional objects in the 24 h Sleep First group was comparable to performance after just a 12 h delay containing a night of sleep, suggesting that sleep soon after learning selectively stabilizes emotional memory. These results suggest that the sleeping brain preserves in long-term memory only what is emotionally salient and perhaps most adaptive to remember.
Keywords: emotional memory formation, emotional memory enhancement, sleep, sleep and memory, memory consolidation, memory, emotion
Citation: Payne JD, Chambers AM and Kensinger EA (2012) Sleep promotes lasting changes in selective memory for emotional scenes. Front. Integr. Neurosci. 6:108. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2012.00108
Received: 12 July 2012; Accepted: 31 October 2012;
Published online: 21 November 2012.
Edited by:Mara Mather, University of Southern California, USA
Reviewed by:Allison Foertsch, University of Southern California, USA
Copyright © 2012 Payne, Chambers and Kensinger. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.
*Correspondence: Jessica D. Payne, Department of Psychology, University of Notre Dame, Haggar Hall, Room 122-B, Notre Dame, IN 46556, USA. e-mail: email@example.com