Psychophysical and neural evidence for emotion-enhanced perceptual vividness
Journal of Neuroscience
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Highly emotional events are associated with vivid "flashbulb" memories. Here we examine whether the flashbulb metaphor characterizes a previously unknown emotion-enhanced vividness (EEV) during initial perceptual experience. Using a magnitude estimation procedure, human observers estimated the relative magnitude of visual noise overlaid on scenes. After controlling for computational metrics of objective visual salience, emotional salience was associated with decreased noise, or heightened perceptual vividness, demonstrating EEV, which predicted later memory vividness. Event-related potentials revealed a posterior P2 component at ~200 ms that was associated with both increased emotional salience and decreased objective noise levels, consistent with EEV. Blood oxygenation level-dependent response in the lateral occipital complex (LOC), insula, and amygdala predicted online EEV. The LOC and insula represented complimentary influences on EEV, with the amygdala statistically mediating both. These findings indicate that the metaphorical vivid light surrounding emotional memories is embodied directly in perceptual cortices during initial experience, supported by cortico-limbic interactions. © 2012 the authors.