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Consciousness and Cognition
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Moderate physiological or emotional arousal induced after learning modulates memory consolidation, helping to distinguish important memories from trivial ones. Yet, the contribution of subjective awareness or interpretation of arousal to this effect is uncertain. Alexithymia, which is an inability to describe or identify one’s emotional and arousal states even though physiological responses to arousal are intact, provides a tool to evaluate the role of arousal interpretation. Participants scoring high and low on alexithymia (N = 30 each) learned a list of 30 words, followed by immediate recall. Participants then saw either an arousing (oral surgery) or neutral video (tooth brushing). Memory was tested 24-h later. Physiological response to arousal was comparable between groups, but subjective response to arousal was impaired in high alexithymia. Yet, delayed word recognition was enhanced by arousal regardless of alexithymia status. Thus, subjective response to arousal, i.e., cognitive appraisal, was not necessary for memory modulation to occur.
Nielson, Kristy A. and Meltzer, Mitchell A., "Modulation of Long-Term Memory by Arousal in Alexithymia: The Role of Interpretation" (2009). Psychology Faculty Research and Publications. 130.