In Memory of Gruesome Details Across Violent Scenes


  • Bailey Bulmer MacEwan University


Emotional scene memory has been found to vary in relation to recall of central (core emotional) and peripheral (background) details, resulting in a form of attentional narrowing/tunnel memory. The source of emotional arousal may influence the extent to which attentional narrowing occurs. Images containing gory/gruesome content should, in theory, lead to a reversal of attentional narrowing given our tendency to avert our gaze away from gory details. However, memory biases for disgust also have been evidenced where recall is enhanced by such material. It remains unclear how gore influences memory retention processes. Participants (N = 568) were assigned to an image condition (non-violent/no-gore, violent/no-gore, violent/indirect gore, violent/direct gore) followed by delayed memory testing, including objective memory assessment detail coding, central/peripheral accuracy questions, and hot spot analysis. Preliminary data review suggests that gory details attracted more focused attention initially, followed by dispersed visual processing of the scene. We predict that exposure to gore will lead to tunnel memories (i.e., enhanced central accuracy), however differences between gore type and violence level may be revealed across different measures of memory assessment (i.e., hot spot/content analysis). This study has implications for how witnesses to violent scenes encode and retain gruesome details in memory.

Department: Psychology

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kristine Peace