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Associations between basal cortisol levels and memory retrieval in healthy young individuals


Ackermann, Sandra; Hartmann, Francina; Papassotiropoulos, Andreas; de Quervain, Dominique J-F; Rasch, Björn (2013). Associations between basal cortisol levels and memory retrieval in healthy young individuals. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 25(11):1896-1907.

Abstract

Cortisol is known to affect memory processes. On the one hand, stress-induced or pharmacologically induced elevations of cortisol levels enhance memory consolidation. On the other hand, such experimentally induced elevations of cortisol levels have been shown to impair memory retrieval. However, the effects of individual differences in basal cortisol levels on memory processes remain largely unknown. Here we tested whether individual differences in cortisol levels predict picture learning and recall in a large sample. A total of 1225 healthy young women and men viewed two different sets of emotional and neutral pictures on two consecutive days. Both sets were recalled after a short delay (10 min). On Day 2, the pictures seen on Day 1 were additionally recalled, resulting in a long-delay (20 hr) recall condition. Cortisol levels were measured three times on Days 1 and 2 via saliva samples before encoding, between encoding and recall as well as after recall testing. We show that stronger decreases in cortisol levels during retrieval testing were associated with better recall performance of pictures, regardless of emotional valence of the pictures or length of the retention interval (i.e., 10 min vs. 20 hr). In contrast, average cortisol levels during retrieval were not related to picture recall. Remarkably during encoding, individual differences in average cortisol levels as well as changes in cortisol did not predict memory recall. Our results support previous findings indicating that higher cortisol levels during retrieval testing hinders recall of episodic memories and extend this view onto interindividual changes in basal cortisol levels.

Abstract

Cortisol is known to affect memory processes. On the one hand, stress-induced or pharmacologically induced elevations of cortisol levels enhance memory consolidation. On the other hand, such experimentally induced elevations of cortisol levels have been shown to impair memory retrieval. However, the effects of individual differences in basal cortisol levels on memory processes remain largely unknown. Here we tested whether individual differences in cortisol levels predict picture learning and recall in a large sample. A total of 1225 healthy young women and men viewed two different sets of emotional and neutral pictures on two consecutive days. Both sets were recalled after a short delay (10 min). On Day 2, the pictures seen on Day 1 were additionally recalled, resulting in a long-delay (20 hr) recall condition. Cortisol levels were measured three times on Days 1 and 2 via saliva samples before encoding, between encoding and recall as well as after recall testing. We show that stronger decreases in cortisol levels during retrieval testing were associated with better recall performance of pictures, regardless of emotional valence of the pictures or length of the retention interval (i.e., 10 min vs. 20 hr). In contrast, average cortisol levels during retrieval were not related to picture recall. Remarkably during encoding, individual differences in average cortisol levels as well as changes in cortisol did not predict memory recall. Our results support previous findings indicating that higher cortisol levels during retrieval testing hinders recall of episodic memories and extend this view onto interindividual changes in basal cortisol levels.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Language:English
Date:2013
Deposited On:31 Jan 2014 10:10
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 17:34
Publisher:MIT Press
ISSN:0898-929X
Additional Information:Copyright: MIT Press
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn_a_00440
PubMed ID:23806175

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