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Article highlights research on long-term memory

“Pre-learning stress that is temporally removed from acquisition exerts sex-specific effects on long-term memory,” a journal article based on research conducted at ONU by Dr. Phillip Zoladz, Dr. Jeffery Talbot and several of their research assistants, has been published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

The research was an attempt to test a recently proposed theory about how stress affects cognition.

According to the temporal dynamics model of emotional memory processing, when stress is in close proximity to a learning experience, long-term memory for that experience will be enhanced. On the other hand, the model suggests that when the stressor is temporally separated from the learning experience, long-term memory for that experience will be impaired.

Zoladz, assistant professor of psychology, and his research team, examined the effects of brief stress that was administered 30 minutes before learning on long-term (24-hour) memory with the hypothesis that stress would hinder performance on the long-term memory assessments.

Data corroborated this prediction because the researchers found that stress impaired long-term memory overall; however, they discovered that the effect was particularly evident in males who exhibited a robust cortisol response to the stress. Females, in contrast, were largely unaffected by the stress. In fact, the only females to demonstrate stress-induced impairments of memory were those who exhibited a blunted cortisol response to the stress.

These findings provide further support for the temporal dynamics model of emotional memory processing, and they indicate that stress-induced alterations of learning and memory depend on the sex of the individual. Specifically, research results show that cortisol, a major stress hormone, can differentially influence learning and memory in males and females. These findings may help explain how stress affects memory in everyday life and lend insight into the biological mechanisms underlying traumatic memory formation.

The research team included Zoladz, psychology majors Ashlee Warnecke, a 2011 graduate from Kalida, Ohio; Sarah Woelke, a 2012 graduate from Bowling Green, Ohio; Hanna Berke, a 2011 graduate from Findlay, Ohio; Rachael Frigo, a 2011 graduate from Mason, Ohio; Julia Pisansky, a senior from Canfield, Ohio; Sarah Lyle, a senior from Canal Winchester, Ohio; and Dr. Jeffery Talbot, associate professor of pharmacology.