Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Font Size

Bad Memories Easier to Remember

Negative Memories May Be More Vivid Than Happy Ones
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 29, 2007 -- There may be a good reason why most people remember exactly what they were doing when tragedies happen, like the JFK assassination or Sept. 11th, but have a hard time remembering birthdays and anniversaries. It turns out that remembering the bad times just comes more naturally.

A new study suggests that we recall bad memories more easily and in greater detail than good ones for perhaps evolutionary reasons.

Researchers say negative emotions like fear and sadness trigger increased activity in a part of the brain linked to memories. 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.

“These benefits make sense within an evolutionary framework,” writes researcher Elizabeth Kensinger of Boston College in a review of research on the topic in Current Directions in Psychological Science. “It is logical that attention would be focused on potentially threatening information.”

Bad Memories Linger

Researchers say studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have shown negative events stimulate activity in emotion-processing regions of the brain, such as the orbitofrontal cortex and the amygdala.

The more these emotional centers are activated by an event, the more likely an individual is to remember specific details linked to the emotional aspect of the event, like the appearance of the gun, and perhaps less likely to remember more mundane details like a street address.

Researchers say this technique of preserving bad memories may have evolved as an evolutionary tactic to protect against future life-threatening or negative events.

They say more studies how we remember bad memories are needed to help understand posttraumatic stress disorder as well as evaluate the reliability of eyewitness testimony.

Today on WebMD

nerve damage
Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
senior woman with lost expression
Know the early warning signs.
woman in art gallery
Tips to stay smart, sharp, and focused.
medical marijuana plant
What is it used for?
senior man
boy hits soccer ball with head
red and white swirl
marijuana plant
brain illustration stroke
nerve damage
Alzheimers Overview
Graphic of number filled head and dna double helix