Background: Little is known about how rapid electrocortical responses (event-related potentials; ERPs) to affective pictures are modulated by benzodiazepine agonists. The present study investigated effects of oxazepam (20 mg p.o.) on behavioral measures and ERPs associated with affective picture processing during perception and recognition memory retrieval.
Methods: Forty-three healthy young adults were given oxazepam or placebo treatment under a double-blind experimental procedure. Affective pictures (negatively arousing or neutral) elicited ERP responses and participants rated pictures for emotionality (during incidental encoding) and recognition.
Results: Oxazepam did not affect perceptual (P1, P2) or emotional (early posterior negativity and late parietal positivity) ERPs or ratings during perception. However, oxazepam impaired recognition performance and decreased positive mid-frontal ERP component at 420-450 ms for old vs. new pictures. The memory impairment was retained at the delayed memory test.
Conclusions: Oxazepam does not selectively influence electrocortical or perceptual indexes of emotional perception or emotional memory. Rather, it blocks memory consolidation independent of valence category. These findings indicate that ERPs can be of use in assessing effects of benzodiazepines on memory-related processes.