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Horm Behav. 2013 May;63(5):759-65. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2013.03.013. Epub 2013 Apr 12.

Acute pre-learning stress and declarative memory: impact of sex, cortisol response and menstrual cycle phase.

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  • 1Department of Human Anatomy and Psychobiology, University of Murcia, 30100 Murcia, Spain. lespin@um.es


This study explores the influence of pre-learning stress on performance on declarative memory tasks in healthy young adults in relation to sex and menstrual cycle phase. The sample was composed of 119 students (32 men and 87 women) from 18 to 25 years of age. The women were tested in different hormonal stages (30 in follicular phase, 34 in luteal phase, and 23 using oral contraceptives). The participants were exposed to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) or a control condition. Afterwards, their memory performance was measured using a standardized memory test (Rey's Auditory Verbal Learning Test). In the control condition, all groups of women recalled more words than men, but these differences disappeared in the group exposed to TSST because men's performance on the memory test improved, but only to the level of women. In addition, our data suggest that in women the relationship between cortisol and memory can be modulated by sex hormone levels, since in luteal women a negative relationship was found between memory performance and peak cortisol level. These results confirm that sex differences need to be considered in the relationship between pre-learning stress and memory performance.

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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