Prior research has shown memory is enhanced for emotional events. Key brain areas involved in emotional memory are the amygdala and hippocampus, which are also recruited during aversion and its anticipation. This study investigated whether anticipatory processes signaling an upcoming aversive event contribute to emotional memory. In an event-related functional MRI paradigm, 40 healthy participants viewed aversive and neutral pictures preceded by predictive warning cues. Participants completed a surprise recognition task directly after functional MRI scanning or 2 weeks later. In anticipation of aversive pictures, bilateral dorsal amygdala and anterior hippocampus activations were associated with better immediate recognition memory. Similar associations with memory were observed for activation of those areas in response to aversive pictures. Anticipatory activation predicted immediate memory over and above these associations for picture viewing. Bilateral ventral amygdala activations in response to aversive pictures predicted delayed memory only. We found that previously reported sex differences of memory associations with left amygdala for women and with right amygdala for men were confined to the ventral amygdala during picture viewing and delayed memory. Results support an established animal model elucidating the functional neuroanatomy of the amygdala and hippocampus in emotional memory, highlight the importance of anticipatory processes in such memory for aversive events, and extend neuroanatomical evidence of sex differences for emotional memory.
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