Finding positive meaning in memories of negative events adaptively updates memory

Megan E. Speer, Sandra Ibrahim, Daniela Schiller, Mauricio R. Delgado

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Finding positive meaning in past negative memories is associated with enhanced mental health. Yet it remains unclear whether it leads to updates in the memory representation itself. Since memory can be labile after retrieval, this leaves the potential for modification whenever its reactivated. Across four experiments, we show that positively reinterpreting negative memories adaptively updates them, leading to the re-emergence of positivity at future retrieval. Focusing on the positive aspects after negative recall leads to enhanced positive emotion and changes in memory content during recollection one week later, remaining even after two months. Consistent with a reactivation-induced reconsolidation account, memory updating occurs only after a reminder and twenty four hours, but not a one hour delay. Multi-session fMRI showed adaptive updates are reflected in greater hippocampal and ventral striatal pattern dissimilarity across retrievals. This research highlights the mechanisms by which updating of maladaptive memories occurs through a positive emotion-focused strategy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6601
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


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