This is the fifth part of a lengthy article by Joseph M. Carver, Ph.D., Psychologist called Emotional Memory Management: Positive Control Over Your Memory. The link to the next segment is included at the close of this segment.
Rule: The emotional part of a memory begins 90 to 120 seconds after a file is pulled.
In mental health situations, this is perhaps the most important neurological rule. Once we pull a file, after 90 seconds the emotional component begins. Our mood starts to change, returning us to the mood which was present when the file was made. As an example, remember someone discussing the recent death of a loved one. The first two minutes of conversation may go well – then they become sad. The longer the file is out (being discussed), the more the emotional component surfaces to the point that they will become tearful. If the file remains out, the exact feelings made at the time of the funeral and death will surface – they will talk about loss, love, guilt, or whatever other feelings are in the file.
As another example, ask someone about the biggest fish they have caught. When the file is pulled you will receive about two minutes of data, the where and when. Once the memory relives the catch, the person’s eyes will widen, their energy level will increase, they may begin arching their back as though illustrating a tough fight, and their entire mood and posture will move as though simulating the reeling-in of a fish. Again, after about two minutes, the emotional component begins to act on our brain chemistry, changing our mood/feelings back to that time.
Socially, imagine having a “bad file” on an individual in the community. You are minding your own business and shopping at Kroger’s. You turn the corner only to be confronted by Mr. X. What happens is this – your brain immediately pulls the file, you are somewhat confused at first, and your emotion of anger, fear, or whatever is in the file begins to surface. Even though you may not have seen the individual in 10 years, the Emotional Memory (EM) file is still active and wide-awake in your brain. This explains how many people can say that simply seeing an enemy or disliked person can ruin their entire day. If the file is not properly controlled, the mood will remain for the rest of the day.
The goal in file control is to prevent the 90 – second emotion from coming to the surface. We all have bad files but most people try to control them by preventing the emotional part from bothering them. They do this by putting the file away before the two-minute time limit.
Rule: The brain only allows one file out at a time.
This rule of brain operation is easy to understand. Much like a television, VCR, or tape player, only one channel/program/tape is allowed to operate at a time. The brain works the same way.
As you read this paper, your brain is focusing on information in the paper. Luckily, the brain will focus on anything we choose, or will play any file or tape we choose. If you suddenly decide to stop reading this paper and watch television, your brain will completely go along with that idea.
Also, your brain can switch files at the speed of light. As an example, allow your brain to change files as your read the following sentences:
- Where was your best vacation?
- Who is your favorite relative?
- Think about the person who last died in your family.
As you read those questions, you brain immediately pulled the files to provide you with the information. The first two questions were rather routine and even if the files were allowed to remain open, would probably not cause much in the way of emotional distress or upset. However, what about the third file. If we allowed it to stay open, we may start thinking about departed grandmother, parents, or close friends. That file, after the two-minute limit, would make us feel sad, lonely, and create all the feelings associated with grief. Importantly, the brain doesn’t care whether it’s thinking about a departed relative or your favorite song.
[The next segment continues with Rule: The brain doesn’t care which file is active.]