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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01014

Preferential Consolidation of Emotional Memory during Sleep: A meta-analysis

  • 1Applied Cognitive Science and Experimental Neuropsychology Team, Department of Psychology, University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • 2Inistitue for Clinical Psychology and Behavioural Neurobiology, University Hospital Tübingen, University of Tübingen, Germany
  • 3Clinical and Experimental Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, United Kingdom
  • 4Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • 5Primary Care and Population Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, United Kingdom

It is uncertain whether sleep preferentially consolidates emotional over neutral material (i.e., whether differences in strength of memory for valenced material compared to neutral material are larger after a sleep-filled delay than after a comparable wake-filled delay). There is conflicting evidence within this literature. Some studies find evidence suggesting that, indeed, sleep enhances emotional memory, whereas others find no such effect. We attempted to resolve this uncertainty by conducting a meta-analysis that compared valenced to neutral material after both sleep- and wake-filled delays. Standard search strategies identified 31 studies (containing 36 separate datasets) that met our inclusion criteria. Using random effects modeling, we conducted separate analyses for datasets comparing (a) negative versus neutral material, (b) positive versus neutral material, and (c) combined negative and positive versus neutral material. We then specified several subgroup analyses to investigate potential moderators of the relationship between sleep and emotional memory consolidation. Results showed no overall effect for preferential sleep-dependent consolidation of emotional over neutral material. However, moderation analyses provided evidence for stronger effects when (a) studies used free recall rather than recognition outcome measures, and (b) delayed recall or recognition outcomes were controlled for initial learning. Those analyses also suggested that other methodological features (e.g., whether participants experience a full night of sleep and a regular daytime waking control condition rather than a nap and a night-time sleep deprivation control condition) and sample characteristics (e.g. all-male or not, young adult or not) should be carefully addressed in future research in this field. These findings suggest that sleep does enhance emotional memory, but that in the laboratory the effect is only observed under particular methodological conditions. The conditions we identify as being critical to consider are consistent with general theories guiding scientific understanding of memory consolidation during sleep.

Keywords: consolidation, review, Emotional Memory, Meta-analysis, Sleep

Received: 06 Dec 2018; Accepted: 16 Apr 2019.

Edited by:

Caterina Lombardo, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy

Reviewed by:

Bjoern Rasch, Université de Fribourg, Switzerland
Denis Brouillet, Paul Valéry University, Montpellier III, France
Janna Mantua, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, United States  

Copyright: © 2019 Lipinska, Bolinger, Thomas, Baldwin and Stuart. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Gosia Lipinska, Applied Cognitive Science and Experimental Neuropsychology Team, Department of Psychology, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, 7701, Western Cape, South Africa,