Cognitive Processing

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 125–132 | Cite as

Only “efficient” emotional stimuli affect the content of working memory during free-recollection from natural scenes

  • Arianna Buttafuoco
  • Tiziana Pedale
  • Tony W. Buchanan
  • Valerio Santangelo
Short Communication


Emotional events are thought to have privileged access to attention and memory, consuming resources needed to encode competing emotionally neutral stimuli. However, it is not clear whether this detrimental effect is automatic or depends on the successful maintenance of the specific emotional object within working memory. Here, participants viewed everyday scenes including an emotional object among other neutral objects followed by a free-recollection task. Results showed that emotional objects—irrespective of their perceptual saliency—were recollected more often than neutral objects. The probability of being recollected increased as a function of the arousal of the emotional objects, specifically for negative objects. Successful recollection of emotional objects (positive or negative) from a scene reduced the overall number of recollected neutral objects from the same scene. This indicates that only emotional stimuli that are efficient in grabbing (and then consuming) available attentional resources play a crucial role during the encoding of competing information, with a subsequent bias in the recollection of neutral representations.


Emotion Salience Working memory Capacity Free recollection 



The study has been partially funded by the Russian Academic Excellence Project ‘5-100’.


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Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arianna Buttafuoco
    • 1
  • Tiziana Pedale
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Tony W. Buchanan
    • 5
  • Valerio Santangelo
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Social Sciences and EducationUniversity of PerugiaPerugiaItaly
  2. 2.Centre for Cognition and Decision MakingNational Research University - Higher School of EconomicsMoscowRussian Federation
  3. 3.Department of PsychologySapienza University of RomeRomeItaly
  4. 4.Neuroimaging LaboratorySanta Lucia FoundationRomeItaly
  5. 5.Department of PsychologySaint Louis UniversitySaint LouisUSA

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