Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Stress and memory


Stress can be both negative and positive in affecting our performance. Interestingly, many training experiences lack any element of stress and as such can be unstimulating and unrepresentative of the real environment.

This study however focuses on the negative impact stress has on forming context dependent memories.

We exposed healthy adults to stress or a control procedure before they learned an object-location task in a room scented with vanilla. Memory was tested 24 h later, either in the same or in a different context (unfamiliar room without the odor). Stress administered prior to encoding abolished the context-dependent memory enhancement found in the control group.

This feels like another example of cognitive load being overwhelmed by an overstimulating (stressful) environment. By overwhelming our short term memory faculties, we cannot embed meaningful memories as effectively.

In my previous post, I wrote about how doodling is a positive response to an unstimulating (boring) environment which can enhance memory recall. It seems to me that a successful learning experience balances a realistic representation of the actual environment where new skills and knowledge need to be applied, alongside time for creative reflection. How often does that happen?

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