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Drunk Brains Forget Facts But Not Feelings

Alcohol may cause you to forget experiences—but not emotions—according to a new study.

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Booze can make you forget, for better or worse.
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By May Wilkerson

08/22/12

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Alcohol is known to make you forget things, but a new study shows that it only impairs your explicit or conscious memory, while your implicit—or unconscious—memory remains intact. Implicit memory is when previous experiences help condition your response to something, "priming" you to respond the same way in the future—for example, learning to play pool or pulling your hand away from an open flame. Explicit memories, on the other hand, are the conscious recollection of a past event—and include remembering someone's name, a childhood visit to the zoo or the time of a dental appointment. The study, conducted by Suchismita Ray, a professor at the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University, examined individuals' ability to retain memories while sober or intoxicated, and found that even a drunk brain retains implicit memory—particularly when those memories are more emotionally charged. "Alcohol dampens overall emotional reactivity, but the brain still allocates more neural resources for emotional cues compared to neutral ones," says Ray. "And with good reason—emotional memories are important for survival." So after a night of heavy drinking—even if you don't remember the bouncer dragging you out of the bar—the next time you walk by that establishment, you may still feel a sense of humiliation and dread.

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