Temporal Memory, Emotional Bias, & Wellbeing
Emotional experiences are temporally dynamic. However, our time-emotion integration capacity is imperfect: when retrospectively evaluating emotional episodes, participants often neglect the temporal dimension, and instead overly rely on the peak and end emotional fluctuations (i.e., duration neglect and the peak-end effect; Fredrickson & Kahneman, 1993). Although these emotional biases are well-documented, they have mostly been identified in relatively homogenous emotional experiences. Furthermore, whether these emotional biases reflect limited time-emotion integration capacity, their underlying computational mechanisms and implications to emotional wellbeing remain unclear. Here, we examined a) whether retrospective emotional biases were evident following heterogeneous and temporally-dynamic experiences, b) whether these biases increased when sequence length challenged time-emotion integration capacity, c) whether higher-fidelity temporal memory prevented retrospective emotional biases, and b) whether retrospective emotional biases and temporal memory errors were associated with dispositional negativity. To do so, an emotion sequences task was designed to measure retrospective emotional biases, where participants viewed sequences of emotional movie clips and provided momentary and retrospective ratings of their emotional responses to each sequence. Subsequently, participants completed a temporal memory task, wherein they recollected the order of movies within a sequence they previously watched, as well as the relative duration of negative versus positive episodes in each sequence. Dispositional negativity was characterized using mood questionnaires. On average, participants displayed the peak-end effect but weighted emotions by duration (thus no duration neglect) following heterogeneous and temporally-dynamic experiences. Longer sequences produced a larger ‘end’ effect, suggesting limited time-emotion integration capacity. Temporal memory errors, wherein emotional sequences were remembered as containing longer-lasting negative episodes, predicted greater vulnerability to retrospective emotional biases and dispositional negativity. These results suggest that a propensity to amplify the subjective duration of negative events in memory leads to a larger gap between experienced and retrospective emotional feelings, which may be emotionally maladaptive.