Showing an arousing central stimulus in a scene often leads to enhanced memory for the arousing central information and impaired memory for peripheral details. However, it is not clear from previous work whether arousing stimuli impair memory for all nonarousing nearby information or just background information. In several experiments, we tested how emotionally arousing pictures affect memory for nearby pictures and for background information. We found that when 2 pictures were presented together, an arousing picture did not affect item and location memory for the other picture. In contrast, an arousing picture impaired memory for a background pattern. These findings suggest that arousal impairs memory for information that is the target of perceptual suppression, such as background information when there is a figure–ground distinction, but does not impair memory for other foreground information.

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