Context-dependent enhancement of declarative memory performance following acute psychosocial stress

T. Smeets*, T.M. Giesbrecht, M. Jelicic, H.L.G.J. Merckelbach

*Corresponding author for this work

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Studies on how acute stress affects learning and memory have yielded inconsistent findings, with some studies reporting enhancing effects while others report impairing effects. Recently, Joels et al. [Jowls, M., Pu, Z., Wiegert, O., Oitzl, M.S., Krugers, H.J., 2006. Learning under stress: how does it work? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10, 152-158] argued that stress will enhance memory only when the memory acquisition phase and stressor share the same spatiotemporal context (i.e., context-congruency). The current study tested this hypothesis by looking at whether context-congruent stress enhances declarative memory performance. Undergraduates were assigned to a personality, stress group (n = 16), a memory stress group (n = 18), or a no-stress control group (n = 18). While being exposed to the acute stressor or a control task, participants encoded personality and memory-related words and were tested for free recall 24 h later. Relative to controls, stress significantly enhanced recall of context-congruent words, but only for personality words. This suggests that acute stress may strengthen the consolidation of memory material when the stressor matches the to-be-remembered information in place and time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-123
JournalBiological Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2007

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