The Role of Autobiographical Memory Networks in the Experience of Negative Emotions: How Our Remembered Past Elicits Our Current Feelings

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The present research examined the role of autobiographical memory networks on negative emotional experiences. Results from 2 studies found support for an active but also discriminant role of autobiographical memories and their related networked memories on negative emotions. In addition, in line with self-determination theory, thwarting of the psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness was found to be the critical component of autobiographical memory affecting negative emotional experiences. Study 1 revealed that need thwarting in a specific autobiographical memory network related to the theme of loss was positively associated with depressive negative emotions, but not with other negative emotions. Study 2 showed within a prospective design a differential predictive validity between 2 autobiographical memory networks (an anger-related vs. a guilt-related memory) on situational anger reactivity with respect to unfair treatment. All of these results held after controlling for neuroticism (Studies 1 and 2), self-control (Study 2), and for the valence (Study 1) and emotions (Study 2) found in the measured autobiographical memory network. These findings highlight the ongoing emotional significance of representations of need thwarting in autobiographical memory networks.

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