We’re More Likely To Remember Scary Memories Than Happy Ones, Science Explains Why

This article may contain affiliate links, learn more.

If we were to ask you about the last time you felt overwhelmingly happy and couldn’t stop smiling versus the last time that you went through a hard time, which one comes up first? More often than not, we tend to give more space in our memories to the bad events compared to the good times.

In fact, a new study shows that we’re able to remember more bad memories and with more details than good ones. It comes down to the emotion that the memory is charged with and the way it triggers brain activity, but at the cost of distortion. Here’s what that means.

Understand your purpose and your potential so that you can take control of your emotions, your life, and your future by clicking HERE.

Bad Memories Last Longer

It may seem obvious that we’re more likely to remember abnormal scary memories than happy ones, but knowing why is the first step in training ourselves to prioritize good memories and manifest more of them.

woman hiding her face on black background
Melanie Wasser/ Unsplash
Melanie Wasser/ Unsplash

Researchers from Tulane University explain that the emotion-processing areas of our brain, the amygdala, and the frontal cortex, are triggered when a bad event happens. This gets them working on high alert and overdrive. People vividly remember bad things because when a surpsring event is taking place, a special memory mechanism takes over, recording the moment with picture-perfect accuracy.

Negative Events Are Better Remembered

If you close your eyes, you’re more likely to vividly relive negative memories than happy ones. They say that people can better actually “remember” the details of negative events, while in comparison, they are more likely to only “know” that a positive event happened without remembering the details.

man and woman stand in front of fire looking at it
Wesley Balten / Unsplash
Wesley Balten / Unsplash

When something bad happens, it’s like the rest of the world gets blocked out, and the brain is only able to focus on the details that are causing them to go into a fight or flight response. For example, people are more likely to remember the weapon with great detail than who was with them or where they were.

The Brain Center Is Aroused

When something bad is happening, your body jumps in to protect you, putting the whole body into fight or flight response and high alert. On a technical level, this overstimulation tells the brain to generate a repetitive bursting pattern of electrical discharges. This changes the frequency of the brain waves from a resting state to an aroused one, which is how a bad memory is born.

purple brain neuron
Hal Gatewood / Unsplash
Hal Gatewood / Unsplash

The good news is since everything operates on a certain energy frequency level, it can be manipulated and changed. We can learn to change our vibrational frequency to match the one of anything we desire and even overwrite bad memories.

An Adrenaline Rush

Jeffrey Tasker, Tulane cell and molecular biology professor, explains that living a bad memory is like releasing an adrenaline rush: “If you are held up at gunpoint, your brain secretes a bunch of the stress neurotransmitters norepinephrine, akin to an adrenaline rush.”

man walking tightrope between cliffs
Casey Horner / Unsplash
Casey Horner / Unsplash

People also are good at knowing whether they saw or only imagined negative items. However, when it’s a good memory, they’re more likely to convince themselves of false perceptions. There is more of a disconnect between positive emotions and memory confidence and memory vividness, which makes happy memories more susceptible to memory errors.

An Emotional Response

We remember emotion more than events. Our bodies know even when we don’t realize we’re processing and storing information on a conscious level. This is why sometimes you’ll find yourself triggered and in a bad mood even when you can’t figure out what’s wrong. If the brain feels threatened because something around you is reminding them of a bad memory, it will react either emotionally or physically.

woman playing with her hair looking sad
Molnar Balint / Unsplash
Molnar Balint / Unsplash

Tasker adds that the adrenaline rush associated with the creation of bad memories, ” changes the electrical discharge pattern in specific circuits in your emotional brain, centred in the amygdala, which in turn transitions the brain to a state of heightened arousal that facilitates memory formation, fear memory since it’s scary. This is the same process, we think, that goes awry in PTSD and makes it so you cannot forget traumatic experiences.”

It’s Evolution Based

Blame it on evolution. At some point, we learned that we shouldn’t touch fire unless we want to get burned. Bad memories help us know what threats to avoid and are meant to help us survive. Researchers say that the technique of preserving bad memories might have evolved as an evolutionary tactic to protect against future life-threatening or negative events.

evolution progression with cutouts and man on a sidewalk
Eugene Zhyvchik / Unsplash
Eugene Zhyvchik / Unsplash

The more we can recall and pass on this information from generation to generation, the more bad memories live in our system and can be accessed in the face of danger.

Memory Errors Still Preserve Meaningful Moments

The problem is we can’t always trust our own memories. Memories, just like any human-made system, aren’t perfect. Studies have found that they’re inconsistent and for various reasons can be repressed, altered, or forgotten over time. The whole point of memories is to preserve important events, whether happy or sad ones.

woman hides her face in bed surrounded by poloraid pictures
Ian Dooley / Unsplash
Ian Dooley / Unsplash

William James wrote that “some events are so emotional as to leave a scar upon the cerebral tissues” This goes back to the idea that while memories can preserve a moment in time, sometimes memory is preserved out of survival instinct and can be exaggerated or overwhelming if we don’t take the time to work through it.

The more we learn how to control our memories, the more we can use them to our advantage of them to heal PTSD or trust in eyewitness testimonies for example.

Memories Change Over Time

We don’t always recall a memory the same way. Sometimes if the way we feel about it has changed if we’ve moved on. Depending on where we are, who we’re with, and how long it’s been, certain triggers and factors can change the details we associate with the memory.

woman reading book by window and looking up in thought
Marcos Paulo Prado / Unsplash
Marcos Paulo Prado / Unsplash

People’s accounts of memory details change over time even though they may still seem confident in its accuracy. For example, you might feel traumatized by a breakup, only for it to seem insignificant after a while. Data suggests that emotional memories are subjective even when they’re vividly remembered rather than accurate. In other words, we can’t always trust our own memories.

We Expect The Worst

We tend to expect the worst to happen. This is a way to protect ourselves. We believe that by preparing for the worst, we can be better suited to fight it. However, the more we expect bad things to happen, the worse we are at dealing with them. We give those bad events priority in our memory and, by extension, to our being. Just like with the law of attraction, the more we expect bad things to happen, the more bad things will. It’s almost like we’re looking for them.

woman sitting in front of window hugging in her knees
Anthony Tran / Unsplash
Anthony Tran / Unsplash

The truth is, yes, bad things do happen, but we have the power of letting them stay engrained in our memory and dictating our next move, or working through them to learn from them and move forward. You have the power.

Are you interested in learning more about the secrets of your memories? Tap into the 4,000-year-old science of Numerological Analysis with a FREE Numerology video report!

That’s right, the numerology of your birth date, regardless of what month you were born, can reveal surprising information about what’s hiding in your subconscious.