Time your stress if you aim for success: the influence of stress on memory for different memory phases

  • Floor van den Brand


In the field of memory research, the influence of stress on memory is still unclear. The aim was therefore to review existing literature on the topic and to determine whether memory is facilitated or impaired by stress. A model is reviewed that hypothesizes that stress improves learning when it is experienced in the context and around the time of the stressful event. This is achieved via catecholamine and non-genomic glucocorticoid actions. Conceptually, the hormones shift the brain into a memory formation mode that facilitates encoding and suppresses the retrieval of irrelevant information. When catecholamine levels have returned to baseline, slow genomic glucocorticoid actions subsequently shift the brain into a memory storage mode where encoding of new irrelevant information will be suppressed to allow successful consolidation of information regarding the stressful event. It was concluded that stress can both enhance and impair memory depending on the timing of the stressful event.