Emotional tagging-A simple hypothesis in a complex reality

Jorge A. Bergado, Morgan Lucas, Gal Richter-Levin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


At the psychological level, the notion that emotional events may be better remembered is a long accepted view. Its translation into neurobiological mechanisms has led to the proposal of the 'emotional tag' concept, according to which, the activation of the amygdala by emotionality would result in modulation of neural plasticity in brain regions (e.g. hippocampus) involved in forming memory of the emotional event. In line with this idea, amygdala activation (by electrical stimulation or exposure to an emotional event) has been demonstrated to affect synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus. Furthermore, the mechanisms associated with the formation of a 'synaptic tag', which is a mechanism proposed to explain the specificity of synaptic plasticity, could subserve the effects of the 'emotional tag' on synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus.The literature reviewed here supports this view but points also to additional factors that should be taken into consideration, such as intensity, duration, controllability of the emotional experience, age of exposure and relations between the emotional aspects of the experience and the event-to-be-remembered. These factors do not only affect the behavioral outcome of the stressful experience but also find their expression in variations in the neuronal and biochemical pathways that are activated, and in the way those will interact with memory formation mechanisms.While adding complexity to the notion of the 'emotional tag', taking such factors into consideration is likely to bring us closer to elucidating the neural mechanisms involved in emotional memory modulation and to our understanding of the neurobiology of associated disorders, such as PTSD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-76
Number of pages13
JournalProgress in Neurobiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by a grant from the Israel Science Foundation , number 1403/07 , to G.R-L and by the Institute for the Study of Affective Neuroscience, University of Haifa , which was endowed by the Hope for Depression Research Foundation.


  • Amygdala
  • Emotional memory
  • Hippocampus
  • LTP
  • Synaptic tag

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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