Title of Project

Examination Stress Differently Influences Memory Performance in Males and Females

Researcher Information

Randy Denis

Project Type


Start Date

2010 12:00 AM

End Date

2010 12:00 AM

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Jan 1st, 12:00 AM Jan 1st, 12:00 AM

Examination Stress Differently Influences Memory Performance in Males and Females

Previous research on emotional arousal and memory performance has demonstrated that acute stressors work to enhance memory consolidation while chronic stress usually negatively impacts memory. Both of these alterations in memory performance are thought to be mediated by the stress hormones cortisol. Since males are most commonly used in stress research, it is currently unclear if there are gender differences in the influence of stress on memory performance in humans. Although physical and psychological stress is mediated through unique neurological and endocrine pathways, they are not typically differentiated from each other in the literature. Here, we sought to use an academic examination as an ethologically-relevant and natural stressor. To that end, we tested participants in two sessions, the first took place three weeks prior to their examination and the second took place 15- minutes prior to their exam. Overall, there was a significant increase in cortisol from baseline to examination. As expected, compared to the baseline testing session, salivary cortisol levels significantly increased during the examination testing session with a concomitant significant increase in short term memory and non-significant increase in long-term memory. Gender differences were found in the potential influence of stress on memory performance. These results show that for females, but not males, increases in cortisol are associated with decreased memory performance. For males, there was a non-significant trend for improved short- and long-term memory performance independent of cortisol levels during the examination session compared to baseline testing session