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Post-learning Stress Facilitates Long-term Memory Consolidation

Rachael L. Aufdenkampe, Callie M. Brown, Amanda R. Scharf, Alison M. Dailey, McKenna B. Early, Courtney L. Knippen, Elizabeth D. Scholl, Andrea E. Kalchik, David M. Peters, Chelsea E. Cadle, Boyd R. Rorabaugh, Phillip Zoladz
Ohio Northern University

Stress-induced alterations of learning and memory underlie the formation of traumatic memories and, thus, one of the most debilitating and costly psychological disorders that society faces, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  However, the effects of stress on learning and memory are complex and still poorly understood.  One relatively consistent finding in this area has been that post-learning stress enhances long-term memory; however, recent work has challenged this view with contradictory findings.  Therefore, we examined the influence of post-learning stress on 24-hr declarative memory.  Fifty-two participants learned a list of words varying in emotional valence and arousal and were then given an immediate free recall test.  Participants then submerged their dominant hand in a bath of ice cold (stress) or warm (no stress) water for 3 min.  Twenty-four hours later, participants returned to the laboratory and completed free recall and recognition assessments.  Results indicated that stress enhanced participants’ long-term free recall, while having no effect on recognition memory.  Also, females in the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle recalled more arousing than non-arousing words following stress exposure.  These findings suggest that post-learning stress studies may serve as a model of traumatic memory formation and that post-learning stress exerts effects on memory that depend on female hormone levels.