Effects of oral cortisol treatment in healthy young women on memory retrieval of negative and neutral words

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2005 Mar;83(2):158-62. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2004.09.001.


Studies in rodents have demonstrated that glucocorticoids enhance memory consolidation but impair delayed memory retrieval. Similar findings have been reported in humans. Emotional items are better remembered than neutral items. However, it is unknown if emotional valence influences the effects of cortisol on retrieval. In this double-blind crossover study, 16 healthy women learned a wordlist containing 15 neutral and 15 negative words. Delayed recall was tested 5h later. Cortisol administered before recall testing significantly reduced retrieval (p<.01). Exploratory follow-up analysis revealed that cortisol significantly impaired retrieval of negative words (p<.01), while having no significant effect on neutral words (p=.47). The current findings could suggest that emotional material is especially sensitive to the memory modulating effects of stress hormones.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / drug effects
  • Attention / physiology
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hydrocortisone / pharmacology*
  • Memory, Short-Term / drug effects
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Mental Recall / drug effects*
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Retention, Psychology / drug effects*
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology
  • Semantics*
  • Verbal Learning / drug effects*
  • Verbal Learning / physiology


  • Hydrocortisone