CIGEV, area gerontology: Research on Lifespan, Multidirectionality and Plasticity – Director: Matthias Kliegel

Group Rimmele: Emotion and Memory across the Lifespan


This project aims to characterize how emotion influences memory across the lifespan.

Over the life span, memory for events changes: studies show that memory capacity, subjective evaluation of memory (e.g. confidence, vividness and subjective recollection) as well as the capacity to memorize context and details increases from childhood, over adolescence to adulthood. In contrast, memory vividness declines from middle-aged adults to old-aged adults (Ghetti et al., 2011; Meier et al., 2013; Ofen et al., 2007; Souchay et al., 2013). These findings demonstrate that the quality as well as the contextual quantity of neutral memories change across the life span.

Compared to neutral memories, adults remember real-life emotional events better. Crucially, adults also exhibit a qualitatively distinct subjective sense of recollection, i.e. emotion intensifies the subjective vividness of the memory, the sense of reliving the event, and confidence in the accuracy of the memory (Neisser et al., 1996; Phelps & Sharot, 2008; Sharot, Martorella, Delgado, & Phelps, 2007; Talarico & Rubin, 2003). Importantly, however, emotion does not increase memory for all kinds of event details equally. Our research shows that the place for a real-life event (9/11) is more consistently remembered over time than other kinds of details such as who the person was with when learning about 9/11 (Rimmele et al. 2012). In contrast, memory for other elements of an emotional event can get disrupted, e.g. a person remembers the weapon of a crime, but not the perpetrator’s face (Stebley, 1992).

Based on this background the research group Emotion & Memory asks the following questions:

  • Aim 1:  How does emotion and age influence memory for the elements/context of an event?
  • Aim 2: What are the biological mechanisms underlying the modulation of emotion and age on memory and its elements/context?


Different experimental studies will be conducted in this project, testing younger and older adults. In these studies, we will employ behavioral memory paradigms on paper, on the computer screen and in immersive virtual reality. To better understand the biological processes underlying emotion and age influences on memory, we will employ psychophysiological methods (e.g. measurement of heart rate) as well as neuro-imaging.


  1. Characterization of the influence of emotion on memory across the life span on the behavioral level
  2. Characterization of the influence of emotion on memory across the life span on the biological level