Allocation of attention and the encoding of emotional memories.

Thumbnail Image

Persistent link to this item

View Statistics

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Allocation of attention and the encoding of emotional memories.

Published Date




Thesis or Dissertation


Emotional reactivity to visual scenes affects both how we attend to them and how they are remembered, but it is not clear how these attention and memory effects are related. Weapon-focus theories (e.g., Loftus, 1979) suggest that attention is restricted to emotion-provoking parts of scenes, and that such restriction of attention affects the specificity of the memory that is stored. I directly tested whether “weapon-focus-like” restriction of attention predicts subsequent visually-specific memory for emotional scenes by recording eye movements while participants viewed relatively emotional and relatively non-emotional slides during initial encoding. Even though visually-specific memory was equivalent for all types of scenes, different patterns of eye movements predicted subsequent memory for emotional and non-emotional scenes. For emotional scenes only, visually-specific memory was predicted when eye movements were restricted to emotional parts of the scenes during encoding. For non-emotional scenes, visually-specific memory was predicted when more fixations of shorter duration were made, and attention was relatively broadened across the scene during encoding. Experiments 2 and 3 tested whether these patterns of eye movements reflect local or global processing of scenes, but across both experiments, there was no evidence that local and global processing influenced subsequent memory effects. The subsequent memory effects from Experiment 1 were replicated in Experiment 2, but in Experiment 3, a relative broadening of attention – more fixations of shorter duration – predicted subsequent memory for all scenes, a pattern that had only been observed for nonemotional scenes previously. Experiment 4 was conducted to test whether this occurred because emotional reactions to emotional scenes were reduced by having participants simply view each scene, which reduces emotional responses when compared to cases where valence and arousal judgments are made as they were in previous experiments. Experiment 4 replicated the subsequent memory effects from Experiment 3, demonstrating important boundary conditions on the subsequent memory effects established in the first two experiments. These results suggest that qualitatively distinct memory representations may be stored for emotional and non-emotional scenes, but both representations are capable of supporting visually-specific memory.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. July 2011. Major: Psychology. Advisor: Chad J. Marsolek. computer file (PDF); viii, 118 pages, appendix p. 117-118.

Related to




Series/Report Number

Funding information

Isbn identifier

Doi identifier

Previously Published Citation

Suggested citation

Blank, Michael Patrick. (2011). Allocation of attention and the encoding of emotional memories.. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

Content distributed via the University Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor. By using these files, users agree to the Terms of Use. Materials in the UDC may contain content that is disturbing and/or harmful. For more information, please see our statement on harmful content in digital repositories.