Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Hot memory and emotion

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Hot memory and emotion:
What is the 'hot memory' system
and how does it work compared to a cool memory system?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Remember the last time you heard a song and it reminded you of a particular person, or event. Can you recall what it was about the song that reminded you of the person or event? Maybe it was a happy memory or a somber moment in your life? This association between the song and person and/or event is a prime example of the connection between memory and emotion.

The association between memory and emotion has been a key interest within psychological research in contemporary study (Christianson, 1998), as this association has been related to many of the characteristics of specific phobias, panic attacks, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as recent links between the phenomenon and the disease Alzheimer’s. Due to the connections which have been uncovered the need to understand the intricate intertwining of memory and emotion is an important concept to comprehend.

Brand (1986) points out that to completely disregard the emotional side of human nature when studying the concept of memory, as many scholars have in the past, is not only ignorant but also results in inaccurate conclusions and an imprecise model of human behaviour and human beings themselves, as it is important to understand that external stimuli, such as our surroundings and internal stimuli, such as our thoughts and reactions, formulate and compose what are essentially our memories and emotions (Greenberg, & Safran, 1984). It is also theorised that this formulation of our memories and emotions based on stimuli is an automatic process which occurs unconsciously, a prime example of this would be when a person is faced with a dangerous and potentially deadly stimuli, such as a snake, the individuals brain automatically begins comparing the stimuli with information and memories previously collated pertaining to the subject matter. One such theory which sets out to explain this association is the theory of hot and cold memory. Before discussing hot and cold memory it is important to understand the areas of the brain which are involved in these memory processes.

Areas of the brain involved in hot and cold memory[edit | edit source]

Although many areas of the brain are believed to be involved in the regulation and interaction of memory and emotion, the limbic system is thought to be predominately responsible[factual?]. The limbic system includes not only the amygdala and the hippocampus in the regulation of memory, emotion and motivation, but also the hypothalamus, the olfactory bulb, and the cingulate gyrus (Weiten, 2013), however the amygdala and hippocampus are thought to govern two memory systems which interact with one another, and operate separately in relation to emotion and memory. It is therefore important to understand the amygdala and the hippocampus as well as their functions within the brain (Phelps, 2004).

The amygdala[edit | edit source]

'Figure 1: The amygdala within the brain

The amygdala is the part of the limbic system that is located in the frontal portion of the temporal lobe, which is thought to be responsible primarily for emotion and aggression (Weiten, 2013). The almond-shaped structure, comprised of interconnected nuclei, detects and responds to emotionally significant events and is specialized in the processing of emotion (McDonald, 1998, Phelps, 2005).

Along with this role in processing emotions, the amygdala is thought to be specifically associated with the emotion, fear. Due to this connection with fear contemporary theorists suggest that most of the nuclei found in the amygdala are evolutionary in their makeup, and therefore elicit primitive emotions and reactions (Reeve, 2009).

This recent thinking is also supported by the almost instant and instinctive reactions of individuals to things which they believe pose a danger or are a cause for concern suggesting that the amygdala can process and produce a response to stimuli independent of cognitive awareness (Weiten, 2013, Phelps, 2005). For example, when an individual is presented with stimuli that is perceived as threatening, such as a large spider, the amygdala responds to this with a surge of fear which is a seemingly automatic response despite any previous knowledge that the spider is harmless or non-venomous.

The hippocampus[edit | edit source]

2: Location of the Hippocampus.

Humans have two hippocampi, one in each side of the brain located in the medial temporal lobe, but they are predominately referred to as the hippocampus, the plural term. Research has shown that the hippocampus plays a large role in memory, and is thought to be responsible for the pairing of information and memory to create responses to situations (Phelps, 2005).

Due to this association the hippocampus is also thought to deal with sensory stimuli and is even thought to be responsible for behavioural inhibition when the individual is faced with events contrary to the normal. Recent studies into amnesia and Alzheimer’s have also uncovered connections between these conditions and hippocampal functioning, concluding that the hippocampus may be necessary and possibly largely responsible for long term memory.

Hot memory[edit | edit source]

Hot memory is a theory which aims to explain the motivated reasoning of an individual. The theory thus details that an individual's motivated reasoning is directly influenced by their emotional state as part of an automatic and immediate process which is led by the individuals emotions at the time of the event (Mather, 2007). Hot memory is therefore the process by which individuals create and maintain highly charged emotional memories.

For example [grammar?] an individual may undergo a traumatic experience, such as being attacked by a shark whilst surfing, [grammar?] this traumatic event may stimulate the hot memory system to produce an automatic fear response to any stimuli pertaining to the event, such as the sea. This fear response is produced by the amygdala in a seemingly primal survival way within the individual, warning them to stay away from the stimuli that was involved in the traumatic event. Hot memory is therefore heavily influenced by emotion and often forces the individual to become more responsive to their environment.

Due to this heavy emphasis on the influence of emotions it has been theorised that hot memory is the basis of emotionality, including the fears and passions of the individual[factual?]. Further evidence that hot memory is the basis of emotionality comes from the theories[grammar?] interaction with the amygdala. As previously discussed, the amygdala plays a key role in the regulation and automatic elicitation of emotions, particularly that of fear, it is because of this that hot memory is thought to be primarily based within the amygdala, with joint interaction between the hippocampal and frontal regions of the brain.

Hot memory and decision making[edit | edit source]

Hot memory is strongly connected to the cognitive and physiological arousal of an individual as a result of highly emotionally charged situation,[grammar?] this automatic process actively effects the individuals use of decision making strategies (Mather, 2007). As a result of the high levels of emotions involved in the hot memory the decision making skills and employment of strategies of the individual that are affected can be positive or negative.

The positive effects of hot memories role in affecting an individuals decision making has a lot to do with the primal instincts of human nature, which play a key role in survival, this is why when faced with a spider that we consciously know is nonvenomous, our first point of exposure with the spider will still result in a surge of emotion eliciting a fight or fight response to ensure our safety in the face of the danger.

However the negative impacts of hot memories influence on an individual's decision making are worrying as it can lead to decisions of poor quality and biased decisions by the individual. One such example of a biased and low quality decision by the individual an individual may make as a result of hot memory and therefore emotional memories, is in that of a court case. The individual in question may be a juror hearing evidence on the case at hand, however because of a resemblance of a known individual to the defendant the juror may attribute characteristics of the individual to the defendant therefore either heavily weighing the evidence in a negative manner as they presume that the defendant is guilty or the dismissal of evidence and the presumption that the defendant is innocent despite the evidence.

Hot memory and stress[edit | edit source]

Stress is a factor of everyday life that effects our emotions and decisions, because of this it is important to understand how it affects our overall actions and memories. The hot memory system and stress are intertwined as stress mainly effects the processes involved in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, both key areas of the brain when it comes to hot and cold memory (Metcalfe & Jacobs, 1998, Blair, 2006).

Stress can both prompt the hot memory system to create and store emotional memories about the stress and their individuals environment during a stressful event. However it is important to note that this stimulation and system is fast and impulsive, because of this the emotionally charged memories may become fragmented.

Real life implications: PTSD[edit | edit source]

Figure 3: Armenian soliders, Iraq-3

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a psychological and physiological disorder which often forms within an individual after a traumatic and/or life threatening event or series of events. Individuals with PTSD often experience intense physical and psychological reactions as a result of external and internal stimuli, such as rapid breathing and flashbacks. These symptoms commonly encountered as part of an individual’s life with PTSD can be immobilizing and affect every aspect of the individuals life. With the diagnosed prevalence of PTSD on the rise, researchers have cast light upon the disorder and have discovered associations between PTSD and hot and cold memory, with a particular emphasis on hot memory.

Researchers initially discovered that under certain conditions emotional memories which have been created as part of repeated exposure to traumatic stressors can lead to psychological disorders such as PTSD. This strong correlation with emotional memories is the first association that PTSD has with hot and cold memory as they essentially depict the maintenance and production of emotional memories.

The main emotions involved in PTSD are fear, anger, and humiliation, these are all emotions involved with the amygdala, especially that of fear[factual?]. The amygdala is the main area of the brain which regulates fear but is also is one of the main areas involved in the creation and regulation of emotional memories as part of the hot memory system.

One particular phenomenon which can occur as a part of PTSD as a result of the traumatic event rape is that of rape trauma syndrome (RTS). This phenomenon is recognised, yet still controversial, and yet effects some victims, where the victim of the traumatic event experiences extreme floods of emotions about the event in general, as well as when faced with triggers pertaining to the event, such as smells or certain words. Researchers who have explored this phenomenon have discovered that these strong emotional experiences can in some cases last up to 5 years, which certainly supports the importance of emotional memories and their role in an individual’s short and long term memory systems proposed by the theoretical framework of hot and cold memory[factual?].

Another real life example of PTSD and its connection to emotional memories, and thus hot memory, is that of PTSD found in the psyche of soldiers. With warfare consistently rampant over time in areas of the world it is not surprising that many soldiers experience traumatic events which affect their overall well being and day to day lives, thus disturbing their lives in every aspect[factual?]. The PTSD that many soldiers experience is a prime example of the most common form of PTSD which is strongly correlated with emotions produced by the amygdala but also with emotional memories.

An example of this correlation with strong memories and emotions experienced as a direct result of PTSD in soldiers commonly is the emotions of fear, anger and guilt experienced after a blast goes off in close proximity to the individual in a chaotic environment, [grammar?] it is important to note that this type of situation may occur and effect an individual in the same ways during their day to day life, however this sort of traumatic event is much more common in a warfare type of environment[factual?].

After an experience such as a bomb blast [grammar?] soldiers can feel fear as a result of PTSD induced by loud noises which trigger the hot memory system, and in turn the amygdala to elicit a fight or flight response from the individual[factual?].

Much like the stimulation to the hot memory system as a result of loud noises in association with fear, the stimuli found in the individuals surroundings can also induce the hot memory system eliciting emotions so strong that emotional memories may flashback to the responder often immobilising them.[factual?]

This elicitation of strong emotional memories produced as a result of PTSD and the relationship with the amygdala confirm that the theory of hot and cold memory are theoretical frameworks which apply to real life, emotionally charged situations.

Cold memory[edit | edit source]

The cold memory system in contrast to the fast and impulsive hot memory system, is slow, neutral and flexible. The interactions which take place as part of the cold memory system are located centrally in the hippocampal and frontal regions of the brain[factual?]. The cold memory system therefore deals with memories that aren't as emotionally charged, unlike those processed in the hot memory system.

Stress, however, does impact this system more completely than that of the hot memory system, as the effects of stress are more centralised within the hippocampal and frontal portions of the brain, the areas that are more centrally involved in the cold memory system[factual?]. Due to this centralisation it is believed that stress directly negatively impacts the aspects of memory consolidation and spatial memory which this system is primarily responsible for resulting in a disruption to hippocampal functioning which then leaves fractured memories[factual?].

Real life implications: Alzheimer's[edit | edit source]

Figure 4: Happy Old Woman

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease which accounts for 50-80% of dementia cases[factual?]. The disease affects the individual’s mental capacity particularly within the realm of memory; it is because of this association with memory that Alzheimer’s is thought to be a real life example of the theory of hot and cold memory, particularly in relation to cold memory.

In the early stages of the disease participants experience mild memory loss, gradually progressing to the late stages of the disease where the individuals involved lose the cognitive ability to respond to their environment and to be an active participant in a conversation. It is the early stage of the disease which particularly interests researchers as it is linked to the hippocampus, one of the main areas of the brain associated with hot and cold memory.

Strengthening this link to the hippocampus and thus the hot and cold memory systems are the results of a contemporary study which uncovered that during the early onset stages of the progressive disease, the damage within the brain was largely centered in the hippocampal region, this conclusion supports the previous hypotheses that the hippocampus plays a large role in the memory process.[factual?]

Along with this seemingly obvious link between Alzheimer’s and memory, links between the disease and emotional memories, the basis of the hot and cold memory systems, are emerging, with a relationship between central peripheral associative memory and emotional arousal frequently discussed by researchers and scholars alike (Marian, Shimamura, & Touryan, 2007). Due to this frequently occurring active discussion evidence has come to light which supports the theory that the two concepts are intricately intertwined[factual?].

A 2007 study suggested that much like [grammar?] the fragmented memories which occur as a result of Alzheimer’s, stress can induce the same phenomenon through the process of disruption to hippocampal processing (Marian, Shimamura, & Touryan, 2007). This suggestion is particularly interesting and supports the link between Alzheimer's and the hot and cold memory systems, as stress is one of the main emotional states which results in the production of emotionally charged memories. These memories may be traumatic or fond memories, both of which are the memories that are commonly recalled by Alzheimer’s patients in the later stages of the disease[factual?].

Another proposed factor which connects the hot and cold memory systems with Alzheimer's is the interaction of the hippocampus and the amygdala in memory processing. Much like in the case of the hot and cold memory systems the amygdala and hippocampus interact, with the amygdala holding the ability to modulate the processes of the hippocampus dependent memories, it is this interaction that scholars believe allows for the gradual deterioration of Alzheimer's patients, as the amygdala can only compensate for some of the hippocampus's degradation before it is overwhelmed (Weiten, 2013)Template:Rewrote.

It is clear that Alzheimer’s is strongly correlated with the concepts of hot and cold memory and is therefore a real life disease which provides an example of the hot and cold memory systems roles within everyday life.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Everyday life is full of emotions and memorable moments; because of this the brain has to have a system to regulate our emotions, primal instincts, and memories, with recent links between emotions and memory, Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Alzheimer's, the importance of understanding the interaction between memory and emotion is even more paramount. The theory of hot and cold memory therefore becomes relevant.

Hot memory refers to memories created as a result of an emotionally charged situation; one example of such an emotional memory which is created and maintained by the hot memory system would be an association between a song and a person. This system is based within the amygdala and therefore has a strong relationship with the emotion fear, much like the fear experienced by those with PTSD.

The cold memory system is however based within the hippocampal and frontal regions of the brain. This system primarily deals with less emotional memories than that of its counterpart. It is however important to note that the hippocampus and frontal regions of the brain both are comprised of high levels of cortisol which are in turn affected by stress, often resulting in fragmented memories, such as those found in Alzheimer's patients.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 What is the primary function of the amygdala?

Processing of emotions, such as fear.

2 Where is the hot memory system primarily located?

Basal Ganglia
The Hippocampus
The Amygdala
The Prefrontal Cortex

3 Hot memory is a theory which aims to explain:

Factual information
Emotionally charged memories
Motor skills

4 What is the main emotion associated with the amygdala?


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