Acute stress, friend or foe: An investigation of free recall ability for incongruent items when placed under acute psychological stress
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Experiencing stress during a working week is typical for most of the population, but the effects of acute stress on individuals is less clear cut, particularly in relation to memory ability. Research suggests that acute psychological stress can enhance memory ability, due to increased neuroplasticity following stress and stress hormones diverting attention to information congruent to the stressful environment. The current research investigated the effects of stress on free recall ability when the stimuli are incongruent to the stressor. Forty-four Psychology undergraduates were exposed to both a stress condition (Modified Trier Social Stress Test- free speech on Social Psychology) and a control condition (Spot the difference task) while remembering neutral incongruent stimuli. Participants experienced acute psychological stress from being told they would have to complete a stressful or non-stressful task. After this exposure, participants were tasked with remembering stimuli on a PowerPoint Presentation. Their memory ability was then assessed by their free recall of correct items; participants then completed the stressful or non-stressful task and gave a Likert judgement to rate the stressfulness of the task. Both conditions were experienced one week apart. The results indicated there was not a significant effect of stress enhancing free recall ability for incongruent stimuli, despite participants reporting the stress condition as significantly more stressful than the non-stress condition. Implications of future research in relation to stress improving memory, and familiarity with the stressor are discussed.
Adkins, A. (2021) ‘Acute stress, friend or foe: An investigation of free recall ability for incongruent items when placed under acute psychological stress’, The Plymouth Student Scientist, 14(1), pp. 490-502.
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