Stress enhances reconsolidation of declarative memory.

PMID 24882163


Retrieval of negative emotional memories is often accompanied by the experience of stress. Upon retrieval, a memory trace can temporarily return into a labile state, where it is vulnerable to change. An unresolved question is whether post-retrieval stress may affect the strength of declarative memory in humans by modulating the reconsolidation process. Here, we tested in two experiments whether post-reactivation stress may affect the strength of declarative memory in humans. In both experiments, participants were instructed to learn neutral, positive and negative words. Approximately 24h later, participants received a reminder of the word list followed by exposure to the social evaluative cold pressor task (reactivation/stress group, nexp1=20; nexp2=18) or control task (reactivation/no-stress group, nexp1=23; nexp2=18). An additional control group was solely exposed to the stress task, without memory reactivation (no-reactivation/stress group, nexp1=23; nexp2=21). The next day, memory performance was tested using a free recall and a recognition task. In the first experiment we showed that participants in the reactivation/stress group recalled more words than participants in the reactivation/no-stress and no-reactivation/stress group, irrespective of valence of the word stimuli. Furthermore, participants in the reactivation/stress group made more false recognition errors. In the second experiment we replicated our observations on the free recall task for a new set of word stimuli, but we did not find any differences in false recognition. The current findings indicate that post-reactivation stress can improve declarative memory performance by modulating the process of reconsolidation. This finding contributes to our understanding why some memories are more persistent than others.