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The fading affect bias, more commonly known as FAB, is a psychological phenomenon in which information regarding negative emotions tends to be forgotten more quickly than that associated with pleasant emotions. Although there have been some contradictory findings regarding the presence of FAB, it has been largely found to be real.
Initially, the Fading Affect Bias was widely accepted as the process whereby the emotional valence of certain events fades over time. More specifically, early researchers largely believed that there was a general fading over time of emotional content and intensity in relation to specific life events, regardless of whether the experiences were positive ones or negative ones. However, later studies found that cognitive processes occur that cause the emotional intensity of negative events to dissipate at a faster rate than positively perceived events. Many conclusions have been drawn regarding FAB, and many explanations have been proposed for why it even exists.
Some of the earliest evidence and argument for the validity of the Fading Affect Bias can be dated back to Cason (1932)'s study. In this study, a retrospective procedure was put into effect, which entailed the recollection of past events as well as a rating of the emotions which the respective events prompted. Data from this study reflected that the recalling of positive events was generally stronger than that of negative events. However, criticism of this study centered upon the fact that retrospective and introspective procedures could possibly be subject to memory biases. Thus, a later study--Holmes (1970)--took a "non-introspective" approach to studying FAB. Twenty-six subjects were told to record events in a diary and record the emotional intensities of the experiences. Data results from these studies were found to be generally consistent with FAB.
Publication from Walker et al. (1997) has been viewed as the "modern era" of FAB studies. In a 1997 publication, Walker discussed the role which memory plays in FAB. Here, it is stated that human beings are preferential in what they select to remember and that certain particulars of events fade, but emotions necessarily do not. Walker used a diary recording method to analyze the cognitive processes of a sample of Caucasian undergraduates. This study found that emotions prompted by positive events were more likely to last than those prompted by negative occurrences. Nonetheless, later studies were conducted by others which were more representative of the population, in that they included people of various races, different socioeconomic statuses, and both genders.
Ritchie et al. (2009) used subject's personal responses to 1200 autobiographical events to study the Fading Affect Bias. In this study, four possible trends were found regarding memory: the Fixed Affect (wherein emotional intensity is maintained), the Fading Affect (wherein emotional intensity diminishes), the Flourishing Affect (where there is an increase in intensity), and the Flexible Affect (where there is a reversal of valence). For positive recollections, the Fixed Affect was more prominent (39%) than the Fading Affect (37%). However, for negative occurrences, the Fading Affect was more prominent (51%) than the Fixed Affect (38%). Instances of the Flourishing Affect and the Flexible Affect were significantly low for both instances.
In addition to the aforementioned psychological studies, related neurobiological studies were conducted that could possibly further explain the phenomenon of FAB. During an interview, neurobiologist Matt Wilson detailed that in studying the brain activity of rats it was found that the remembrance of past events and the anticipation of future events seemed to be linked neurologically. This is a possible implication of why FAB exists: the human need to catalog relevant information to be used in the future.
Sigmund Freud's theory of repression was used during initial research of FAB. A key tenet of the FAB theory is that certain emotional intensities dissipate over the course of time. Freud's theory of repression, however, implies that while specific event memories can be eventually forgotten over time, accompanying emotions remain unbothered. Also, it states that intense emotions are more likely to be remembered, but "not necessarily the substance of."
Researchers have drawn many conclusions regarding why FAB occurs. A popular explanation for FAB among psychologists and researchers alike is the need for healthy self-awareness and positive self-esteem. It has been largely found that FAB is more prevalent among mentally healthy individuals as opposed to those who suffer from mental and neurological dysfunction. More specifically, it has been established that people who suffer from even mild depression are more likely to maintain negative emotions from unpleasant experiences. Thus, it has been concluded that FAB allows one to have positive perception and be more likely to attain a positive self-image. In addition, it has been found that human beings have the tendency to alter their negative emotions into positive ones and to use certain negative occurrences as learning experiences. This too adds to having a positive outlook on life. Several things, such as self-image, one's mood disposition, the frequency of rehearsal, and "recreational drug use" are considered moderators of FAB.