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Neurobiology of Learning and Memory
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It has been well established that moderate physiological or emotional arousal modulates memory. However, there is some controversy about whether the source of arousal must be semantically related to the information to be remembered. To test this idea, 35 healthy young adult participants learned a list of common nouns and afterward viewed a semantically unrelated, neutral or emotionally arousing videotape. The tape was shown after learning to prevent arousal effects on encoding or attention, instead influencing memory consolidation. Heart rate increase was significantly greater in the arousal group, and negative affect was significantly less reported in the non-arousal group after the video. The arousal group remembered significantly more words than the non-arousal group at both 30 min and 24 h delays, despite comparable group memory performance prior to the arousal manipulation. These results demonstrate that emotional arousal, even from an unrelated source, is capable of modulating memory consolidation. Potential reasons for contradictory findings in some previous studies, such as the timing of “delayed” memory tests, are discussed.