Stress Administered Immediately before Learning Reduces False Memory Production and Enhances True Memory Recall in Females
Previous research has suggested that stress increases the production of false memories. However, as accumulating work has shown that the effects of stress on learning and memory depend critically on the timing of the stressor, we hypothesized that stress administered immediately prior to learning would reduce, rather than increase, false memory production. In the study, participants submerged their dominant hand in a bath of ice cold water (stress) or sat quietly (no stress) for 3 min. Then, participants completed a short-term memory task, in which they were presented with 10 different lists of semantically related words
(e.g., candy, sour, sugar) and, after each list, were tested for their memory of presented words (e.g., candy), non-presented unrelated “distractor” words (e.g., hat), and non-presented semantically related “critical lure” words (e.g., sweet). Stress, overall, significantly reduced the number of critical lures recalled (i.e., false memory) by participants. In addition, stress enhanced memory for the presented words (i.e., true memory) in female, but not male, participants. These findings suggest that stress does not unequivocally enhance false memory production and have important implications for eyewitness testimony by implying that such testimony may be more accurate when assessed shortly after the witnessed event.