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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013 Aug;38(8):1460-5. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.12.010. Epub 2013 Jan 11.

Stress disrupts response memory retrieval.

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Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Cognitive Psychology, Ruhr-University Bochum, Universitaetsstrasse 150, 44780 Bochum, Germany.


Stress effects on memory are well-known. Most studies, however, focused on the impact of stress on hippocampus-dependent 'declarative' memory processes. Less is known about whether stress influences also striatum-based memory processes, such as stimulus-response (S-R) memory. First evidence from rodent experiments shows that glucocorticoid stress hormones may enhance the consolidation of S-R memories. Whether stress affects also S-R memory retrieval remains largely elusive. Therefore, we tested in the present experiment in humans the effect of stress on the retrieval of S-R memories. Healthy men and women were trained to locate three objects in an S-R version of a virtual eight-arm radial maze. One week later, participants underwent a stressor or a control condition before their memory of the S-R task was tested. Our results showed that participants (n=43) who were exposed to the stressor before retention testing made significantly more errors in this test trial, suggesting that stress impaired S-R memory retrieval. Moreover, high cortisol concentrations were associated with reduced S-R memory. These findings indicate that stress may affect memory retrieval processes in humans beyond hippocampal 'declarative' memory.

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