FAB memories

Fading Affect Bias (FAB) is a term which applies to the way we remember autobiographical events, with positive affect being shown to persist for longer than negative. You can understand why this might be the case – by holding onto the rose-tinted view we may, arguably, be protecting our mental health and allowing ourselves to adapt and move on.

A new study published in the journal Memory sought to understand whether the FAB principle applies universally, given that past research has focused only on American college students.

The authors tested for evidence of FAB by sampling over 2400 autobiographical event descriptions from 562 participants in ten countries around the world. Participants ranged from mature-age German citizens to Ghanaian students and all were asked to recall a number of positive and negative events in their lives. For each event, they were asked to rate the emotions they felt, both at the time, and in the present when calling the event to mind.

The findings were consistent – each of the ten diverse groups experienced FAB, with negative emotions  associated with remembered events fading more quickly than positive emotions. Furthermore, there was no evidence that FAB changes with increasing age – our bias towards remembering the positive seems to be a lifelong effect. The authors conclude:

“We believe that this phenomenon is part of a set of cognitive processes that foster emotion regulation and enable psychological resilience.”

This makes sense to me, but makes me wonder how FAB fits in with the concept of denial, used so frequently as a psychological defence mechanism? Perhaps those fortunate ones who pass through life without mental health issues harness this principle in order to remain mentally well? Perhaps for those with deeper psychological problems, knowing about the existence of FAB may be helpful in breaking through the denial which can mask the truth of a past situation?


Written by Jacqui Hogan