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Memory for emotional images differs according to the presence of depressive symptoms in individuals at risk for dementia

  • Brandy L. Callahan (a1) (a2), Robert Laforce (a3) (a4), Michel Dugas (a5) and Carol Hudon (a1) (a2)



Studies of amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) and late-life depression (LLD) have examined the similarities and differences between these syndromes, but few have investigated how the cognitive profile of comorbid aMCI and subclinical depressive symptoms (aMCI/D+) may compare to that of aMCI or LLD. Memory biases for certain types of emotional information may distinguish these groups.


A total of 35 aMCI, 23 aMCI/D+, 13 LLD, and 17 elderly controls (CONT) rated the valence (positive, negative, or neutral) of 30 pictures from the International Affective Picture System. Mean percent positive, negative, and neutral images recalled was compared within groups immediately and 30 minutes later.


Overall memory performance was comparable in aMCI and aMCI/D+, and both recalled fewer items than CONT and LLD. Group differences emerged when valence ratings were considered: at immediate and delayed recall, positive and negative pictures were generally better-remembered than neutral pictures by CONT, aMCI, and LLD, but valence was not associated with recall in aMCI/D+. Follow-up analyses suggested that the perceived intensity of stimuli may explain the emotional enhancement effect in CONT, aMCI, and LLD.


Results support previous research suggesting that the neuropsychological profile of aMCI/D+ is different from that of aMCI and LLD. Although depressed and non-depressed individuals with aMCI recall comparable quantities of information, the quality of the recalled information differs significantly. On theoretical grounds, this suggests the existence of distinct neurobiological or neurofunctional manifestations in both groups. Practically, these differences may guide the development of personalized emotion-focused encoding strategies in cognitive training programs.


Corresponding author

Correspondence should be addressed to: Dr. Brandy L. Callahan, Sunnybrook Research Institute, 2075 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, ON M4N 3M5, Canada. Phone: +416-480-6100 ext. 3396; Fax: +416-480-4552. Email:


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