Effects of Stress on Memory

Test the effects of stress on your memory

What is the # 1 cause of forgetting?

The answer to this question is simple; the information did not make into your memory in the first place i.e. it was not encoded. Why not? Two things have to happen for you to learn and remember information.

  • You have to be awake or vigilant
  • You have to pay attention to the information

Although this may sound simple it is not.

To pay attention to something your brain must figure out what it is you need to remember or what is relevant. This is called selective attention.

For example, look at the object below; this is your target.

Now, find this target in the array by clicking on this link.

Pretty easy eh? You just worked your selective attention. In real life though, things are not so simple. The following array is a little bit closer to what our brain has to do on a daily basis.

Find out more

Memory processing allows us to acquire, retain, and recall information and/or experiences. How stress affects memory?

When stress is a factor however, selective attention is often the first to go. Too many targets that share too many attributes with too many distracters make it difficult to figure out what is relevant from what is not. When the brain detects a stressor (a threat), this threat becomes the most relevant information for the brain to work on.  So everything else that you were finding relevant is not anymore. 

Even if you can easily discriminate between what is relevant and what is not, this does not mean that you will remember it! While your brain figures out what is relevant, it is doing many other things simultaneously (multi-tasking). This is not as easy at it sounds for our busy brains.



Test your memory - 1

To illustrate, grab some paper and a pen/pencil. Please look at the words on this page and try and remember them. We will be asking you to recall them. Take no more than 30 seconds to encode them!

Now write the words you can remember down on your paper in 45 seconds

Pretty easy, right?

Test your memory - 2

Now we will do the same thing, but this time you have to tap your right leg with your right hand the whole time you are looking at the following list of words on this page. Go ahead, no one will notice…..

Now write the words you can remember down on your paper in 45 seconds.

Things are starting to get a littler harder… admit it!

Test your memory - 3

Try to do the same thing saying BLA BLA BLA out loud while you are looking at the following list of words. Go ahead, no one is listening…

No peaking… Now write the words you can remember down on your paper in 45 seconds.

This was likely the hardest of our tasks so far.

Consult our prediction of your pattern of results on the following page