Why do we remember bad memories more than good ones?

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Many people might remember a tragic event, but easily forget any birthdays or anniversaries. For example, we remembered what we did when the tsunami or earthquake happened, and the effects of the tragedy. Meanwhile, we often forget the date of someone’s birthday or  anniversaries if there is no notification from the calendar. How can it be?

Researchers discovered that negative emotions like fear and sadness enhance brain activity associated with memory. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to show how unpleasant experiences increase activity in emotion-processing brain areas, such as the orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala. The more an occurrence stimulates this emotional center, the more likely a person is to recall specific information associated with that emotional aspect, such as someone who is suddenly hit by a motorbike, and maybe less likely to recall more common data, such as street addresses.  “It is logical that attention would be focused on potentially threatening information,” writes Elizabeth Kensinger of Boston College in a review of research on the issue published in Current Directions in Psychological Science. As a result, our attention is more focused on objects that pose a threat.

           Besides that, another factor that makes bad memories stay is our age. According to Laura L. Carstensen, the worst times in our lives emotionally are our 20s and 30s. Carstensen’s research group asserts that negative memories are more pronounced among younger people. Younger people have a long and dim future and need to remember many things that might help them manage their future. The negative memories can be a good lesson for them to not repeat the same mistakes in the future. As people get older, people tend to focus on positive information that makes their presence feel good. Moreover, old people often forget many things that negative memories might disappear from their brain.

Therefore, there can be two reasons why we remember bad memories more easily than good memories: negative emotions and age. When we are sad and then cry, we recall our bad memories at the same time. As we feel fear, we remember the reason behind our traumatic events so that bad memories stay. Moreover, younger people focus on many things, including bad memories that are taken as a lesson to not repeat them in the future. Thus, we can say that our bad memories just come more naturally as we release sad emotions.

References:

Warner, J. (2007, August 29). Bad Memories Easier to Remember. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20070829/bad-memories-easier-to-remember

Caren, A. (2018, November 1). Why we often remember the bad better than the good. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2018/11/01/why-we-often-remember-bad-better-than-good/

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