When I was a junior in college, I spent a semester studying at the Filozofski Fakultet in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. At the time, it was still a communist country but in a scant number of years, civil war would bring the country, as it was known, to its end. I sometimes say to people that I’ve been to two countries that they can never visit because neither one exists any longer — the other country was the Soviet Union, where I spent a very unusual Thanksgiving — a story for another time.
Today’s post is on mood and memory, and the reason I bring my time abroad up is due to a memory that came to me while I was doing laundry on Monday — you have to occupy your mind with something beyond getting out stains. Anyway, the memory was from a shared moment I had with a few of my classmates on the island of Hvar, a stunningly beautiful medieval city.
At the beginning of the semester, our teacher, my fellow classmates, and I went on a tour of the country and Hvar was one of the early stops. One evening after dinner, five of us took a walk along the ancient jetty. It was a warm, summer night with a brilliant full moon. The moonlight reflected off of the calm Adriatic and lit up the 13th-century hilltop fortress above us. The water looked so inviting that one of us decided to strip off his clothes and dive in, challenging us to do the same. One by one, we followed suit — some more reluctantly than others — and dove naked into the warm sea.
After splashing about and laughing hysterically, we all fell into a collective silence. There we were, five strangers, floating freely in the warm salty water, looking up at that brilliant moon, and thinking about what the next few months would bring. It was so peaceful, comforting, and reassuring that I had this intense feeling of affection and connectedness to my new friends and truly felt happy and grateful for this unique experience. This memory recall was so powerful that when I closed my eyes in the laundry room, it felt as if I were there again floating in that sea with my future friends.
I wondered why this memory felt so intense, so “memorable?” Did my mood at the time, seal the memory into my brain. What is the connection between mood and memory? Researchers have been studying this for years and they have uncovered a treasure trove of information on the topic, too much to write about today, but I selected six interesting tidbits from that research for you.
Memory is where you encode, store, and retrieve information from your experiences and your brain is constantly forming these memories — both good and bad.
(As an aside, did you know the human brain has 10 times the capacity for memory than neuroscientists previously thought? The potential is in the petabyte range — as much as the entire Web.)
Mood and Memories
Various studies have shown that how you feel when experiencing an event, has more to do with remembering it, even if the event was inconsequential or not worth remembering. Of course, your focus of attention will impact how deeply you remember, but depending on how you feel during the time when the situation presented itself, the better your chances of saving the memory that is being created. Each and every day your brain is forming new memories, discarding old ones, and storing those that you thought you would forget but are still with you.
The Effect of Mood Intensity
The intensity of emotion also seems to create longer lasting memories of an event. In an article on WebMD by Miranda Hitti, she wrote, “When emotions are aroused, the brain takes note. It stores as much detail as possible about the emotion-filled event, wiring it for quick recall. That emotion-charged memory can be summoned at a moment's notice, even after a long time has passed. ‘That's true for positive and negative emotions,’ say Duke University's Florin Dolcos and colleagues. Their report appears in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”
Good to Good, Bad to Bad
Not only does mood affect memory but what type of mood you are in is also a factor. This is called mood congruence. From medium.com, “the idea that moods promote the processing of events and information that fit with the same emotional tone. We’re more likely to remember happy events, words, and faces if we are happy at the time. Same goes for sad moods — we remember negative information better when our emotions are shadowy.”
Age and Memory
In an article on buzzle.com, the author writes, “The age of a person greatly influences how you treat your memory intake, where adolescents and the young tend to remember negative memories, more than the positive ones. As one ages, he/she has a better understanding of how to latch on to information, therefore releasing negative memory intake, and storing that which is positive. The conclusion drawn here is that older people have a better way of controlling their emotions, therefore taking in negative data in smaller doses as compared to the young.”
The Fading Affect Bias
Another interesting piece of the puzzle is the fading affect bias. This has to do with memories that you do not remember or somehow change the outcome of the memory. According to a study referenced in an article on psychologistworld.com, the author wrote, “This bias leads us to tend to forget memories of negative emotional valence and focus on memories which affect us more positively. Idealized memories of childhood, for instance, may be due to our minds focusing on the positive, rather than negative, events that occurred whilst growing up.” I’m guilty of this behavior when it comes to recalling certain events in my youth.
In the same article cited above, the author wrote about repressed memories, which brings us to Sigmund Freud, who was a pioneer in psychoanalysis and was one of the first psychiatrists to tie emotional feelings to memories. He theorized that those who experienced traumatic events, or those which would cause distress to a person if dwelled upon, might repress those memories.
“Such memories are not entirely forgotten, but the conscious mind is prevented from recalling them in case they created feelings of guilt or shame. Instead, they remain in the unconscious mind and affect us in ways that we do not realize. In a series of studies, Freud identified repressed feelings and memories as being the source of various phobias, for instance.
Using regression in a state of hypnosis, along with techniques such as free association, Freud believed that these memories could be brought back into the conscious mind so that a person may accept them and resolve issues associated with such repressed memories.”
There is a tremendous amount of research that’s been written on mood, emotions, memory, and the intricate workings of the brain, ranging from scientific studies to personal essays and remembrances. My intention today was to offer up a few kernels of data that I found interesting and I hope you found it interesting too.
As for my Yugoslavia mates, I’m still in touch with many of them and there’s been talk of a reunion. Another chance to make more amazing memories!
Cooking for Joan
Last week, I was getting ready to prepare dinner and realized that I didn't have a lot of options. I've been so busy lately that I haven't done my usual Trader Joe's run or even stocked up from the local grocery. I was also craving pizza. I really like the pre-made pizza crust from Trader Joe's because it's tasty and EASY, but unfortunately, I didn't have one. I had all of the ingredients but a crust...what could I use as a substitute? Then it dawned on me, why not use a flour tortilla! Well, of course, I did my research and voilà, there are hundreds of recipes. I guess I didn't discover a new dish, but I did add a fantastic one to my repertoire. It makes for a nice thin, crispy crust with all of the flavors of a true pizza. Give it a try!
Tortilla Pepperoni Pizza
Prep Time: 5 | Cook Time: 10 | Makes: 1 | Difficulty: Easy
- 1 Flour Tortilla
- 2 ounces Mozzarella
- 3 tablespoons marinara sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 pinch of crushed red pepper
- 8 slices pepperoni
- 1 spray of canola oil spray
- grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to taste
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the tortilla in a 12-inch pre-sprayed cast iron pan or baking sheet (max crispiness option: place the tortilla on a stainless steel, oven-safe cooling rack, and place that on the baking sheet).
Spread sauce evenly across the tortilla, leaving 1/2 inch around the edges.
Sprinkle with cheese and toppings.
Bake until the cheese is golden and bubbling (no sooner!) and the edges of the tortilla are lightly browned, about 10 to 14 minutes.
Let the pizza cool for a few minutes before slicing.
image: Hvar Harbor