A wedding, a dispute, a grim diagnosis, a natural disaster . . . our most vivid and lasting memories are typically emotional ones. These memories are selective, however. Like a spotlight that illuminates the centre of a scene, throwing the periphery into shadow, emotion enhances memory for central features of emotional events but impairs memory for peripheral details. Memory narrowing as a result of emotion has been demonstrated in numerous studies but several sources of controversy remain. Defining ‘‘central’’ is one. What constitutes the core of an emotional event? Does central refer to whatever people happen to be paying attention to at the time they are emotionally aroused? Does it refer only to information that forms an integral part of an emotional event? Or does it refer to information that bodes well or ill for a person’s well-being? What constitutes peripheral information, destined to be forgotten? Another source of controversy concerns the mechanisms by which emotion fortifies some memories while allowing others to fade. Extending the scope of these questions, investigators recently have begun to ask whether all emotions, or only particular negative emotions, bring about a trade-off between memory for central and peripheral information. This paper reviews current research and theory on these issues.