Preattentive processing, poststimulus elaboration, and memory for emotionally arousing stimuli

Mai Migita, Hajime Otani, Terry M. Libkuman, Sonya M. Sheffert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Christianson (1992) proposed two mechanisms to explain emotionally enhanced memory: preattentive processing and poststimulus elaboration. Experiment 1 examined these processes by instructing participants to perform (1) a concurrent distractor task, (2) a continuous distractor task, or (3) both while viewing the negatively arousing, positively arousing, and neutral pictures. Recall of negatively arousing pictures showed a small decline in one of the distractor conditions, indicating that elaboration plays a minor role in remembering these pictures. Experiment 2 partially replicated Experiment 1 with an intentional learning instruction to investigate whether participants in Experiment 1 were anticipating a recall test. For all three picture types, recall declined in the continuous distractor task condition, indicating that elaboration played a role, even when the pictures were negatively arousing. Overall, these results were consistent with the notion that remembering negatively valenced stimuli is largely based on preattentive processing with a minor role played by poststimulus elaboration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)260-280
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of General Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2011


  • Emotionally enhanced memory
  • Poststimulus elaboration
  • Preattentive processing


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