Effects of emotional content on working memory capacity. Academic Article uri icon


  • Emotional events tend to be remembered better than neutral events, but emotional states and stimuli may also interfere with cognitive processes that underlie memory performance. The current study investigated the effects of emotional content on working memory capacity (WMC), which involves both short term storage and executive attention control. We tested competing hypotheses in a preregistered experiment (N=297). The emotional enhancement hypothesis predicts that emotional stimuli attract attention and additional processing resources relative to neutral stimuli, thereby making it easier to encode and store emotional information in WMC. The emotional impairment hypothesis, by contrast, predicts that emotional stimuli interfere with attention control and the active maintenance of information in working memory. Participants completed a common measure of WMC (the operation span task; Turner, M.L., & Engle, R.W.[1989]. Is working memory capacity task dependent? Journal of Memory and Language, 28, 127-154) that included either emotional or neutral words. Results revealed that WMC was reduced for emotional words relative to neutral words, consistent with the emotional impairment hypothesis.

published proceedings

  • Cogn Emot

altmetric score

  • 3.7

author list (cited authors)

  • Garrison, K. E., & Schmeichel, B. J.

citation count

  • 18

complete list of authors

  • Garrison, Katie E||Schmeichel, Brandon J

publication date

  • March 2019