Information content moderates positivity and negativity biases in memory.
Two experiments examined the impact of encoding conditions and information content in memory for positive, neutral, and negative pictures. We examined the hypotheses that the positivity effect in memory (i.e., a bias in favor of positive or against negative information in later life) would be reduced when (a) pictures were viewed under structured as opposed to unstructured conditions, and (b) contained social as opposed to nonsocial content. Both experiments found that the positivity effect observed with nonsocial stimuli was absent with social stimuli. In addition, little evidence was obtained that encoding conditions affected the strength of the positivity effect. We argue that some types of social stimuli may engage different types of processing than nonsocial stimuli, perhaps encouraging self-referential processing that engages attention and supports memory. This processing may then conflict with the goal-driven, top-down processing that is hypothesized to drive the positivity effect. Thus, our results identify further boundary conditions associated with the positivity effect in memory, arguing that stimulus factors as well as situational goals may affect its occurrence. Further research awaits to determine if this effect is specific to all social stimuli or specific subsets.
Hess, TM; Popham, LE; Dennis, PA; Emery, L
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