Visual working memory (WM) for face identities is enhanced when faces express negative versus positive emotion. To determine the stage at which emotion exerts its influence on memory for person information, we isolated expression (angry/happy) to the encoding phase (Experiment 1; neutral test faces) or retrieval phase (Experiment 2; neutral study faces). WM was only enhanced by anger when expression was present at encoding, suggesting that retrieval mechanisms are not influenced by emotional expression. To examine whether emotional information is discarded on completion of encoding or sustained in WM, in Experiment 3 an emotional word categorisation task was inserted into the maintenance interval. Emotional congruence between word and face supported memory for angry but not for happy faces, suggesting that negative emotional information is preferentially sustained during WM maintenance. Our findings demonstrate that negative expressions exert sustained and beneficial effects on WM for faces that extend beyond encoding.
- working memory