Emotional experiences can lead to ’emotional hangovers’, new research finds.
These ’emotional hangovers’ are still measurable in the brain after the emotional event has finished.
Emotional hangovers can also strongly influence our memory for subsequent events.
Dr Lila Davachi, one of the study’s authors explains:
“How we remember events is not just a consequence of the external world we experience, but is also strongly influenced by our internal states — and these internal states can persist and color future experiences.”
When people have an emotional experience, their memory becomes stronger for non-emotional events that happen afterwards.
In other words, our brain stays on high alert even if subsequent events are not that exciting.
For example, after seeing a particularly emotional movie, we might have a heightened memory for a relatively everyday experience like driving home.
Dr Davachi continued:
” ‘Emotion’ is a state of mind.
These findings make clear that our cognition is highly influenced by preceding experiences and, specifically, that emotional brain states can persist for long periods of time.”
For the research people were shown a series of images, some of which were emotionally arousing.
Brain scans revealed that after viewing arousing images, the brain continues to be in a heightened state of arousal for around 20 to 30 minutes.
The study also found that emotional events release a cocktail of neurotransmitters into the brain.
Dr Davachi said:
“We see that memory for non-emotional experiences is better if they are encountered after an emotional event.”
Previous studies also tell us that emotional hangovers also work the other way: like getting the headache before you have a drink.
Emotional events can change our memory for previous events as well, colouring them in different ways.
The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience (Tambini et al., 2016).