Memories are Forever until Forever Ends

why negative memories affect the brain more than the positive


Lucy Knerr

the mind and memory

Life is full of experiences, both great and terrible. Both have incomprehensible effects on the human mind. However, for whatever reason, bad experiences seem to have a greater impact than those that could build the person up. Philosophically, the answer is unquestionably more complicated than the inquisition. However, psychologically, this question could have a somewhat clearer answer.

In an article published by WebMD which was written by Jennifer Warner and reviewed by Louise Chang, MD, Warner dives into the mind to find out why it may hold onto more disturbing memories in lieu of more cheerful ones:  “Researchers say negative emotions like fear and sadness trigger increased activity in a part of the brain linked to memories..”(Warner, WebMD). 

Because anxiety-related feelings are extremely powerful and seemingly have the most impact, memories connected to these feelings seem to have the most staying power within the mind as a result. 

Along with this “staying power”, these memories are also the most subjected to dissonance and distortion: “These emotionally charged memories are preserved in greater detail than happy or more neutral memories, but they may also be subject to distortion.

For example, eyewitnesses to a shooting often report seeing the gun vividly, but they may not remember precise details of their surroundings” (Warner, WebMD).  

Within these tense memories, aspects may become overexaggerated or added in relation to the strong feelings of fear within the memory, which can then harm the producer of these memories in the long term. The higher the intensity of apparent parts of a memory, the more they will affect the brain and how it functions. 

Each negative memory, depending on the severity of the event that occurred within the memory, can produce “negative [] activity in emotion-processing regions of the brain, such as the orbitofrontal cortex and the amygdala”(Warner, WebMD).  These regions of the brain are the most heavily affected by mental illnesses like PTSD and other memory-related illnesses. These illnesses are, unlike many would believe, definitely treatable whether that be with psychotherapy or medicine directly targeting the illness.

Memories can be extremely dangerous if the negative overcomes the positive. If any of these negative memories are heavily affecting you, don’t be afraid to reach out for help from the people around you. Whether that be friends, family, or a trusted adult, no matter who it is, there will always be somebody ready and willing to listen and help.