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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013 Jan;38(1):94-106. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.05.004. Epub 2012 Jun 9.

Stress eliminates retrieval-induced forgetting--does the oral application of cortisol?

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Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, 78457 Konstanz, Germany.


It is well established that stress and glucocorticoids can affect memory. Psychosocial stress has been reported to eliminate retrieval-induced forgetting (RIF), the phenomenon that repeated retrieval of a subset of previously learned material impairs later recall of related, but non-retrieved information. The stress-related reduction of RIF has been found correlated with an increase in salivary cortisol levels. Based on these findings, the current placebo-controlled study examined the effect of an oral dose of 25mg hydrocortisone on the RIF effect in 37 healthy men. Even though participants in the hydrocortisone group showed a marked increase in salivary cortisol, retrieval-induced forgetting was not affected by the pharmacological treatment. Thus, cortisol administration alone in contrast to stress experience does not impair the RIF effect. However, participants with high state anxiety during retrieval practice did not show RIF, whereas participants with low state anxiety did. This finding suggests a role for state anxiety in stress-related elimination of retrieval-induced forgetting, perhaps indicative of a memory-modulating sympathetic nervous system effect.

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