Memoria y emocion

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Development and Psychopathology, 10 (1998), 811–828 Copyright © 1998 Cambridge University Press Printed in the United States of America

Stress, memory, and emotion: Developmental considerations from the study of child maltreatment

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University of Wisconsin at Madison; Mt. Hope Family Center; and cUniversity of RochesterAbstract Emotion and memory are examined within a developmental framework. The point of departure for this discussion is the study of maltreated children whose traumatic experiences have been linked to difficulties in emotional development. It is suggested that cognitive processes such as memory and attention serve to link experience with emotion and emotion with psychopathology. Thus, aninformation processing approach is used to explain the development of maltreated children’s adaptive and maladaptive coping responses. It is argued that maltreated children’s association of affective stimuli with traumatic experiences and memories selectively alters the meaning of emotions for these children. More generally, the role of experience and learning as a component of emotional development isemphasized.

Introductory Issues: Memory, Emotion, and Child Maltreatment Extreme emotional experiences are likely to influence an individual’s future understanding of and reaction to affective information. This effect of experience suggests that emotion and memory are intimately related. Both emotion and memory are aspects of human information processing that allow one to understand, prepare for,and cope adaptively to salient features of the environment. Consistent patterns of data reveal a strong positive association beThis research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health: MH55365 (S.P.), MH54643 (D.C.), and MH47333, MH56571, and HD25802 (R.K.); and The Spunk Fund, Inc. (D.C.). The first author is indebted to members of the Emotions Research Group at the Universityof Wisconsin–Madison for a year of debate and discussion regarding memory and emotion. Arthur Glenberg and Sheree Toth provided helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Seth Pollak, Department of Psychology, 1202 West Johnson Street, University of Wisconsin at Madison, Madison, WI 53706-1696; E-mail:

tweenhow vividly an event is remembered and the emotionality of the event (Linton, 1975). Yet, researchers also have documented many situations in which recall of emotional events is, in fact, vivid, but inaccurate (McClosky, Wible, & Cohen, 1988; Neisser, 1982). It appears that highly emotional events are most likely to be remembered vividly; yet, at the same time, emotionality may undermine memoryaccuracy. The asynchrony between salience and accuracy raises compelling questions about the relation between traumatic stress and memory. The empirical evidence discussed later in this paper leaves little doubt that arousing or stressful emotional events recruit substantial cognitive resources. The practical advantages of such distribution of resources are readily apparent. But what would be theadaptive benefit of strong, but inaccurate, emotional memories? Although much research has been directed to understanding the operational features of emotion and memory, relatively little attention has been paid to understanding the emergence and development of the integration



S. Pollak, D. Cicchetti, and R. Klorman

of these capacities. In this paper, emotion and memory will beexamined within a developmental framework. The point of departure for this discussion will be the study of maltreated children, whose traumatic experiences have been linked to difficulties in their emotional development. Although integrations of emotion and memory are not new, there has been renewed interest in these topics as the role of trauma in the development of psychopathology has gained...
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