Bringing to mind the best and worst: The role of emotion in memory and imagination


Bringing to mind the best and worst: The role of emotion in memory and imagination.


Daniela J. Palombo

Assistant Professor

University of British Columbia


Friday, November 26, 3:00pm - 4:00pm MST



Memory is by definition a record of our history. This record contains the narrative of our lives, grounding us in who we are. Yet humans spend only a minority of time reminiscing about the past—the majority of our thoughts involve imagining and fantasizing about experiences we have never had. The pieces are drawn from memory, but the product is something new. Many of these thoughts tend to be episodic in nature—they involve imagining oneself engaging in a specific autobiographical experience, such as presenting one’s work at a forthcoming talk. In doing so, we use our mind’s eye to paint a picture of the best and worst possible outcomes that we might face. It has thus been argued that a central purpose of memory (particularly episodic memory) is to form the building blocks that allow humans to imagine and forecast future contingencies. This idea has two implications: First, experiences that are directly relevant to our survival—those that are often highly emotional in nature—are more likely to be retained in memory. Second, such prior experiences should directly influence future-oriented adaptive behaviors, such as planning or decision making. Thus, our memories are tuned towards the significant, thereby optimizing our survival and well being. With these ideas in mind, my talk will focus on the role of emotion in memory and imagination.