The impact of affective information on working memory: A pair of meta-analytic reviews of behavioral and neuroimaging evidence

Susanne Schweizer*, Ajay B. Satpute, Shir Atzil, Andy P. Field, Caitlin Hitchcock, Melissa Black, Lisa Feldman Barrett, Tim Dalgleish

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Everyday life is defined by goal states that are continuously reprioritized based on available, often affective information. To pursue these goals, individuals need to process and maintain goal-relevant information, while ignoring potentially salient information that distracts resources from these goals. Empirically, this ability has typically been operationalized as working memory (WM) capacity. A growing body of research is investigating the impact of information's affective salience on WM capacity. In the present review we address this question by exploring the potential differential impact of affective compared with neutral information on WM, and the underlying neural substrates. One-hundred and 65 studies (N = 7,433) were included in the meta-analysis. Results showed negligible to small (d = -.07-.20) effects of affective information on behavioral measures of WM in healthy individuals (n = 4,936) that varied as a function of valence and task-relevance. Heterogeneity analyses were significant, demonstrating the need to identify further study-specific factors and individual differences that moderate affective WM. At the neural level (33 studies; n = 683), processing affective versus neutral material during WM tasks was associated with more frequent recruitment of the vlPFC, the amygdala, and the temporo-occipital cortex. In contrast to healthy individuals, across behavioral studies those suffering from mental health problems (n = 2,041) showed impaired WM accuracy (d = -0.21) in the presence of affective material. These findings highlight the importance of integrating behavioral and neural levels of analysis. Finally, these findings suggest that affective WM capacity may be a transdiagnostic mechanism associated with poor mental health.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)566-609
Number of pages44
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Psychological Association.


  • Emotion.
  • Frontoparietal control network.
  • Mental health.
  • Salience network
  • Working memory.


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