Stress Disrupts Short-Term Memory Function, Research Suggests

Scientists believe that stress could have a direct impact on short-term memory.

In a recent study, a group of psychologists at the University of Wisconsin–Madison noted a link between stress and the mind’s ability to ‘remember’ information.

The neurons of the brain's prefrontal cortex store information for short periods, allowing individuals to concentrate on a task and modulate their emotions.

However, in tests, psychologists found that rats subjected to stress (a large blast of white noise) no longer functioned well.

"We're simultaneously watching dozens of individual neurons firing in the rats' brains, and under stress those neurons get even more active," David Devilbiss, lead author, in a statement.

"But what they're doing is not retaining information important to completing the maze. They're reacting to other things, less useful things."

According to psychology professor Craig Berridge, people without a prefrontal cortex are very distractible, impulsive and argumentative.

Previous drug studies have suggested that stress suppresses health brain activity.

However, the researchers suggest their work may suggest new directions for treatment of prefrontal cortex dysfunction.

"These studies demonstrate that rather than suppressing activity, stress modifies the nature of that activity. Treatments that keep neurons on their self-stimulating task while shutting out distractions may help protect working memory."

The research is published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology.