The role of working memory in decoding emotions

Louise H. Phillips, Shelley Channon, Mary Tunstall, Anna Hedenstrom, Kathryn Lyons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

80 Citations (Scopus)


Decoding facial expressions of emotion is an important aspect of social communication that is often impaired following psychiatric or neurological illness. However, little is known of the cognitive components involved in perceiving emotional expressions. Three dual task studies explored the role of verbal working memory in decoding emotions. Concurrent working memory load substantially interfered with choosing which emotional label described a facial expression (Experiment 1). A key factor in the magnitude of interference was the number of emotion labels from which to choose (Experiment 2). In contrast the ability to decide that two faces represented the same emotion in a discrimination task was relatively unaffected by concurrent working memory load (Experiment 3). Different methods of assessing emotion perception make substantially different demands on working memory. Implications for clinical disorders which affect both working memory and emotion perception are considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)184-191
Number of pages8
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008


  • emotion perception
  • facial expressions
  • working memory
  • prefrontal cortex
  • executive function
  • affect recognition
  • decision-making
  • facial emotion
  • perception
  • face
  • mind
  • schizophrenia
  • impairment


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