Back to overview Show all

Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Psychophysics
Title of proceedings Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Psychophysics
DOI 10.1037/xhp0000891


Emotion is assumed to change how people process information by modulating attentional focus. Two recent studies (Spachtholz et al., 2014;Xie & Zhang, 2016) reported that self-reported negative emotion boosted the precision with which information was stored in visual working memory. Here we attempted and failed to replicate these findings across seven studies conducted in four countries. Emotion was induced by presenting emotional images (negative, neutral, and positive) before each trial of a visual working memory task (six experiments) or the images were combined with emotional music during a3-min induction phase (one experiment) occurring prior to the memory task. In the visual working memory task, participants stored (emotionally neutral) continuously varying colored dots or oriented triangles. At test, the color or orientation of a probed item was reproduced. Although participants reported changes in their emotional state commensurate with the manipulations, six experiments showed substantial evidence against changes in visual working memory precision (and quantity) under negative (and positive) emotion in comparison with neutral, whereas one condition, in one study, showed increased precision under both negative and positive emotion compared with neutral. These results challenge the view that emotion modulates visual working memory quality and quantity.