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Behav Res Ther. 2006 Oct;44(10):1461-9. Epub 2005 Dec 15.

The effect of arousal on memory for emotionally-relevant information: a study of skydivers.

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  • 1School of Psychology, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia.


The aim of the present study was to test memory for information under conditions of extreme arousal in an analogue design to mimic hyperarousal during trauma exposure. Prior to their skydive, 70 novice skydivers were administered measures of fear, heart rate, and anxiety sensitivity. Half the participants learnt a list of words that varied in both relevance to their skydive and valence (irrelevant/relevant, negative/neutral) on the plane (skydivers), and remaining participants learnt an identical list of words on the ground (delayed controls). Following the skydive, participants completed free recall and recognition tasks; heart rate, dissociation, and subjective arousal were also measured. Consistent with an attentional narrowing hypothesis, skydivers recalled comparable a comparable number of relevant words as delayed controls, but significantly less irrelevant words. In terms of recognition performance, skydivers displayed better recognition of relevant words but poorer recognition of irrelevant words than delayed controls. Valence of words did not alter the pattern of results. The implications of the findings are discussed in the context of understanding memory processes under conditions of high threat.

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