The temporal dynamics model of emotional memory processing: a synthesis on the neurobiological basis of stress-induced amnesia, flashbulb and traumatic memories, and the Yerkes-Dodson law

Neural Plast. 2007:2007:60803. doi: 10.1155/2007/60803.


We have reviewed research on the effects of stress on LTP in the hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex (PFC) and present new findings which provide insight into how the attention and memory-related functions of these structures are influenced by strong emotionality. We have incorporated the stress-LTP findings into our "temporal dynamics" model, which provides a framework for understanding the neurobiological basis of flashbulb and traumatic memories, as well as stress-induced amnesia. An important feature of the model is the idea that endogenous mechanisms of plasticity in the hippocampus and amygdala are rapidly activated for a relatively short period of time by a strong emotional learning experience. Following this activational period, both structures undergo a state in which the induction of new plasticity is suppressed, which facilitates the memory consolidation process. We further propose that with the onset of strong emotionality, the hippocampus rapidly shifts from a "configural/cognitive map" mode to a "flashbulb memory" mode, which underlies the long-lasting, but fragmented, nature of traumatic memories. Finally, we have speculated on the significance of stress-LTP interactions in the context of the Yerkes-Dodson Law, a well-cited, but misunderstood, century-old principle which states that the relationship between arousal and behavioral performance can be linear or curvilinear, depending on the difficulty of the task.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amnesia / etiology
  • Amnesia / physiopathology*
  • Amnesia / psychology
  • Animals
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Potentiation / physiology
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Time Factors