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Biol Psychol. 2007 Sep;76(1-2):116-23. Epub 2007 Jul 10.

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

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Department of Clinical Psychological Science, Maastricht University, The Netherlands.


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, Joëls et al. [Joëls, 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 24h 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.

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