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Research has shown that negative affect reduces working memory capacity. Commonly, this effect has been attributed to an allocation of resources to task-irrelevant thoughts, suggesting that negative affect has detrimental consequences for working memory performance. However, rather than simply being a detrimental effect, the affect-induced capacity reduction may reflect a trading of capacity for precision of stored representations. To test this hypothesis, we induced neutral or negative affect and concurrently measured the number and precision of representations stored in sensory and working memory. Compared with neutral affect, negative affect reduced the capacity of both sensory and working memory. However, in both memory systems, this decrease in capacity was accompanied by an increase in precision. These findings demonstrate that observers unintentionally trade capacity for precision as a function of affective state and indicate that negative affect can be beneficial for the quality of memories.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Journal Article

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