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Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders, and daily transient feelings of anxiety (or "stress") are ubiquitous. However, the precise impact of both transient and pathological anxiety on higher-order cognitive functions, including short- and long-term memory, is poorly understood. A clearer understanding of the anxiety-memory relationship is important as one of the core symptoms of anxiety, most prominently in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is intrusive reexperiencing of traumatic events in the form of vivid memories. This study therefore aimed to examine the impact of induced anxiety (threat of shock) on memory encoding and retrieval. Eighty-six healthy participants completed tasks assessing: visuospatial working memory, verbal recognition, face recognition, and associative memory. Critically, anxiety was manipulated within-subjects: information was both encoded and retrieved under threat of shock and safe (no shock) conditions. Results revealed that visuospatial working memory was enhanced when information was encoded and subsequently retrieved under threat, and that threat impaired the encoding of faces regardless of the condition in which it was retrieved. Episodic memory and verbal short-term recognition were, however, unimpaired. These findings indicate that transient anxiety in healthy individuals has domain-specific, rather than domain-general, impacts on memory. Future studies would benefit from expanding these findings into anxiety disorder patients to delineate the differences between adaptive and maladaptive responding.

Original publication




Journal article


Learn Mem

Publication Date





532 - 542


Adolescent, Adult, Analysis of Variance, Anxiety, Electroshock, Fear, Female, Humans, Male, Memory, Middle Aged, Neuropsychological Tests, Wrist, Young Adult