Journal of Neuropsychology

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Preserved re‐experience of discrete emotions: Amnesia and executive function

Amnesic patients can re‐experience emotions elicited by forgotten events, suggesting that brain systems for episodic and emotional memory are independent. However, the range of such emotional memories remains under‐investigated (most studies employing just positive–negative emotion dyads), and executive function may also play a role in the re‐experience of emotions. This is the first investigation of the intensity of the emotional re‐experience of a range of discrete emotions (anger, fear, sadness, and happiness) for a group of amnesic patients. Twenty Korsakoff syndrome (KS) patients and 20 neurologically normal controls listened to four novel emotional vignettes selectively eliciting the four basic emotions. Emotional experience was measured using pen‐and‐paper Visual Analogue Mood Scales and episodic memory using verbal recollections. After 30 min, the recollection of stories was severely impaired for the patient group, but the emotional re‐experience was no different from that of controls. Notably, there was no relationship between episodic recall and the intensity of the four emotions, such that even profoundly amnesic patients reported moderate levels of the target emotion. Exploratory analyses revealed negative correlations between the intensity of basic emotions and executive functions (e.g., cognitive flexibility and response inhibition) for controls but not patients. The results suggest that discrete emotions can be re‐experienced independently of episodic memory, and that the re‐experience of certain discrete emotions appears to be dampened by executive control. KS patients with absent or mild cognitive symptoms should benefit from emotion‐regulation interventions aimed at reducing the recognized affective burden associated with their episodic memory deficit.

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