Positive affect improves working memory: Implications for controlled cognitive processing

Hwajin Yang, Sujin Yang, Alice M. Isen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


This study examined the effects of positive affect on working memory (WM) and short-term memory (STM). Given that WM involves both storage and controlled processing and that STM primarily involves storage processing, we hypothesised that if positive affect facilitates controlled processing, it should improve WM more than STM. The results demonstrated that positive affect, compared with neutral affect, significantly enhanced WM, as measured by the operation span task. The influence of positive affect on STM, however, was weaker. These results suggest that positive affect enhances WM, a task that involves controlled processing, not just storage processing. Additional analyses of recall and processing times and accuracy further suggest that improved WM under positive affect is not attributable to motivational differences, but results instead from improved controlled cognitive processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)474-482
Number of pages9
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Correspondence should be addressed to: Hwajin Yang, School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University, Level 4, 90 Stamford Road, Singapore 178903. E-mail: hjyang@smu.edu.sg This research was supported by a dissertation grant from Cornell University conferred on the first author. We thank Drs Stephen J. Ceci and Giho Park for their insightful comments. This article is dedicated to the memory of Alice M. Isen, whose expertise and guidance were integral to this research.


  • Controlled processes
  • Inhibitory control
  • Positive affect
  • Short-term memory
  • Working memory


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