The effects of an acute psychosocial stressor on episodic memory

Robert S. Stawski, Martin J. Sliwinski, Joshua M. Smyth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Although stressors are believed to impair memory, experimental studies with humans have provided inconsistent support for this conclusion. The current study was designed to examine the effect of an acute psychosocial stressor, and subsequent reactivity, on episodic memory. One hundred participants completed a list-recall task before and after random assignment into a stressor or nonstressor condition. Participants assigned to the stressor condition exhibited both impaired delayed and immediate recall, and also exhibited increasesin the commission of intrusions and perseverations. The experience of off-task thoughts and intentional suppression of such thoughts, were associated with greater impairment of immediate recall. Changes in state anxiety, negative mood, and heart rate were unrelated to changes in memory. These data indicate that exposure to a stressor impaired the recall of previously learned information, and compromised the recall of newly acquired information. Furthermore, cognitive interference is an important factor regarding stress-related impairments of episodic memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)897-918
Number of pages22
JournalEuropean Journal of Cognitive Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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