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Content archived on 2024-05-28

Effects of emotion and stress on different memory phases

Final Report Summary - EMOTIONAL MEMORY (Effects of emotion and stress on different memory phases)

Where were you when you heard about the terrorist attack on the world trade center? Can you remember receiving your high school diploma, your first kiss? Very likely you are able to remember these emotional events. Emotions have a profound impact on what we learn and keep in mind and thus influence who we are. In particular, emotions affect various stages of memory, i.e. encoding, consolidation, retrieval, and reconsolidation. Stress hormones, i.e. glucocorticoids as well as catecholamines released upon an emotionally arousing experience influence emotion’s effects on all stages of memory formation. This research project aimed to characterize the behavioural and neurobiological processes that underlie the effects of emotion and stress on different memory stages. Study 1 showed that emotion alters memory formation processes for both emotional and neutral stimuli at the behavioral as well as neural level .Study 2 showed that changing stress hormone levels pharmacologically at memory retrieval persistently weakens emotional memories. Study 3 showed that suppression of emotion during exposure to emotional and neutral stimuli decreases the subjective sense of remembering. These studies characterize the mechanisms of how that emotion and stress change memories at memory formation and memory retrieval. These findings are of high relevance for learning in educational settings, where emotion may be used to improve learning. These findings could also have a large impact for mental health disorders with an emotional memory component, such as phobias or post-traumatic stress disorder. In these conditions, the findings of this CIG might proof to be helpful to develop intervention methods to decrease negative memories over time.