Our own experiences, as well as the findings of many studies, suggest that emotionally arousing experiences can create lasting memories. This autobiographical article provides a brief summary of the author's research investigating neurobiological systems responsible for the influence of emotional arousal on the consolidation of lasting memories. The research began with the finding that stimulant drugs enhanced memory in rats when administered shortly after training. Those findings suggested the possibility that endogenous systems activated by arousal might influence neural processes underlying memory consolidation. Subsequent findings that adrenal stress hormones activated by learning experiences enhance memory consolidation provided strong evidence supporting this hypothesis. Other findings suggest that the enhancement is induced by stress hormone activation of the amygdala. The findings also suggest that the basolateral amygdala modulates memory consolidation via its projections to brain regions involved in processing different aspects and forms of memory. This emotional-arousal-activated neurobiological system thus seems to play an important adaptive role in insuring that the strength of our memories will reflect their emotional significance.
Keywords: Autobiography; amygdala; arousal; corticosterone; epinephrine; norepinephrine; stress.