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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2001 Apr;26(3):307-17.

Enhanced memory for emotional material following stress-level cortisol treatment in humans.

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  • 1Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Labs (151A), University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK 73104, USA.


Memory tends to be better for emotionally arousing information than for neutral information. Evidence from animal studies indicates that corticosteroids may be necessary for this memory enhancement to occur. We extend these findings to human memory performance. Following administration of cortisol (20 mg) or placebo, participants were exposed to pictures varying in emotional arousal. Incidental memory for the pictures was assessed one week later. We show that elevated cortisol levels during memory encoding enhances the long-term recall performance of emotionally arousing pictures relative to neutral pictures. These results extend previous work on corticosteroid enhancement of memory and suggest that high cortisol levels during arousing events result in enhanced memory in humans.

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