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Neuroreport. 2003 Dec 19;14(18):2485-8.

Cortisol has different effects on human memory for emotional and neutral stimuli.

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Graduate School of Neural and Behavioural Sciences, International Max Planck Research School, University of Tübingen, Osterbergstrasse 3, 72074 Tuebingen, Germany.


Adrenal stress hormones are considered to play a role in memory enhancement of emotionally arousing events. To investigate the effects of cortisol on human emotional memory, subjects were administered hydrocortisone (25 mg) or placebo and presented with either an emotionally arousing or a neutral story. Memory for the story was tested 1 week later. In all memory tests, subjects who viewed the emotional story scored better for the emotionally arousing story parts, indicating that arousal enhances memory. In memory of details, cortisol showed an interaction with story valence but no main effect: cortisol enhanced memory for details of the neutral story version, but impaired memory for details of the emotionally arousing version. We thus confirm a non-linear interaction between cortisol and arousal on memory formation.

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