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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012 May;37(5):693-701. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.08.014. Epub 2011 Sep 28.

Inter-individual differences in trait negative affect moderate cortisol's effects on memory formation: preliminary findings from two studies.

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University of Wisconsin, School of Medicine and Public Health, Department of Psychiatry, Madison, WI 53719, USA.


Acute emotional arousal moderates the effects of cortisol on memory. However, it is currently unknown how stable inter-individual differences (i.e., traits) moderate cortisol's effects on memory. In two studies using within-subjects designs - 31 healthy males in Study 1 and 42 healthy subjects (22 female) in Study 2 - we measured trait negative affect (NA) and presented emotional and neutral pictures. In Study 1, we manipulated endogenous cortisol levels using a speech stressor following encoding. In Study 2, using a randomized placebo-controlled design, we pharmacologically manipulated cortisol levels prior to encoding (0.1mg/kg hydrocortisone vs. saline infused over 30min). Free recall for pictures was subsequently assessed. Trait NA repeatedly moderated the relationship between cortisol and memory formation. Findings suggested the speculative conclusion that the direction of effects may vary by sex. In males, cortisol was related to memory facilitation in subjects with lower Trait NA. Conversely, females with higher Trait NA showed greater cortisol-related increases in memory. Trait NA may be a stable inter-individual difference predicting neurocognitive effects of cortisol during stressors.

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