Previous research has shown that Memories cued by concrete concepts, such as objects, are retrieved faster than those cued by more abstract concepts, such as emotions. This effect has been explained by the fact that more memories are directly retrieved from object versus emotion cues. In the present study, we tested whether RT differences between memories cued by emotion versus object terms occur not only because object cues elicit direct retrieval of more memories (Uzer, Lee, & Brown, 2012), but also because of differences in memory generation in response to emotions versus objects. One hundred university students retrieved memories in response to basic level (e.g. orange), superordinate-level (e.g. plant), and emotion (e.g. surprised) cues. Retrieval speed was measured and participants reported whether memories were directly retrieved or generated on each trial. Results showed that memories were retrieved faster in response to basic -level versus superordinate-level and emotion cues because a) basic -level cues elicited more directly retrieved memories, and b) generating memories was more difficult when cues were abstract versus concrete. These results suggest that generative retrieval is a cue generation process in which additional cues that provide contextual information including the target event are produced. Memories are retrieved more slowly in response to emotion cues in part because emotion labels are less effective cues of appropriate contextual information. This particular finding is inconsistent with the idea that emotion is a primary organizational unit for autobiographical memories. In contrast, the difficulty of emotional memory generation implies that emotions represent low-level event information in the organization of autobiographical memory. (C) 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.