Social stress-induced cortisol elevation acutely impairs social memory in humans

Neurosci Lett. 2004 Jun 10;363(2):125-30. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2004.03.062.


Although stress is known to affect the memory process, little has been elucidated regarding its effect on social memory. In this study, 30 subjects' social memory (face-name association memory) performance was tested. Twenty subjects were exposed to social stress with a subsequent test of social memory, while the remaining ten subjects served as controls. Free cortisol was determined via saliva samples taken before and after the social stress exposure. Because stress hormones might have biphasic actions on neurons, we separated the subjects with cortisol elevations between high and low responders. The high responders had significantly impaired social memory. Furthermore, we observed a negative relation between social stress-induced cortisol elevation and social memory. These results indicate that social stress acutely impairs social memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / etiology
  • Memory Disorders / metabolism*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Social Behavior*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Up-Regulation / physiology*


  • Hydrocortisone