Preliminary Evidence That Stress Makes Negative Memories Less Distinctive, With Implications For Witness Testimony

Posted on July 2, 2019

Effects of stress on our ability to recall is complex and may seem conflicting. Past research have discovered that we have better memory when under stress, but there are also studies which found that stress has a negative impact on our memory.

In order to achieve a better understanding of the relationship between stress and memory, researchers from Harvard University gathered 56 young adults as participants and conducted a study. Participants were showed pictures which are negative or neutral and were required to complete a task afterwards. The tasks were dependent on which group they were placed in. One group is placed under stressful conditions, while the other group experienced little to no stress at all. These participants were then given a memory task two weeks later, where they were told to identify pictures which they saw previously.

Results show that both groups of participants were able to remember negative pictures better, supporting the claim that emotional events are more memorable. Both groups were also equally successful in identifying correct images which they have seen before. However, the group under stress produced more false alarms in which they identified images that was not shown to them previously, a compared to participants who were not stressed.

Therefore, researchers explained that this could possibly be due to the fidelity of the memories that has an impact on recognition. If the memories are more distinct from the other information an individual is processing, it is easier to recall those memories.

While these results might not be completely representative and further research is still required for a more comprehensive picture, the results show that stress impacts different types of memory differently. Follow-up experiments and analyses could possibly lead to greater insight into how stress might impact memory in real life scenarios such as evaluating the testimonies of eye-witnesses.

Category(s):Stress Management

Source material from The British Psychological Society Research Digest