The impact of stress on neutral and emotional aspects of episodic memory

Memory. 2006 Jan;14(1):1-16. doi: 10.1080/09658210500139176.


The present experiment demonstrates that exposure to a significant psychological stressor (administered before watching a slide show) preserves or even enhances memory for emotional aspects of an event, and simultaneously disrupts memory for non-emotional aspects of the same event. Stress exposure also disrupted memory for information that was visually and thematically central to the event depicted in the slide show. Memory for peripheral information, on the other hand, was unaffected by stress. These results are consistent with theories invoking differential effects of stress on brain systems responsible for encoding and retrieving emotional memories (the amygdala) and non-emotional memories (e.g., the hippocampal formation), and inconsistent with the view that memories formed under high levels of stress are qualitatively the same as those formed under ordinary emotional circumstances. These data, which are also consistent with results obtained in a number of studies using animals and humans, have implications for the traumatic memory debate and theories regarding human memory.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Emotions* / physiology
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall* / physiology
  • Psychological Tests
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Time Factors