Does Stress Impair Memory?

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

The relationship between stress and memory is complex.

We all know that emotionally intense experiences tend to be effectively stored for retrieval over a lifetime.  This is an evolutionary mechanism that guides us away from dangerous situations we have previously encountered, and toward those where significant rewards were garnered.  Since stress is correlated with emotional intensity, it makes sense that there is a relationship betwen stress and memory.

In a more thorough look at the relationship, researchers from the University of Edinburgh recently published their findings in the Journal of Neuroscience.   According to their study, a moderate amount of stress can aid memory, but an intense or sustained amount of stress can be harmful.

They identified two distinct receptors in aging brains that react to cortisol, a hormone produced as a by-product of stress.  The first receptor reacted to low levels of cortisol and improved memory. The other, which reacted to higher levels of cortisol, had a negative impact on memory capacity. 

The most likely conclusion from this work is that a single stressful incindent is likely to be stored for later recall, but a lifestyle of sustained high stress, is likely to impair overall memory function.


  1. It's because we DON'T want to remember it!

  2. Helpful...would like to see more information & research on this