Stressed-Out Memories; December 2004; Scientific American Mind; by Robert M. Sapolsky; 6 Page(s)
Your first kiss. Your wedding ceremony. The time the car spun out of control and just missed the oncoming truck. Where you were when the earthquake hit, when Kennedy was shot, on 9/11. Each detail of such life-changing events is etched forever in your mind, even though you may not recall the slightest thing about the 24 hours beforehand. Arousing, exciting, momentous occasions, including stressful ones, get filed away very readily. Stress can enhance memory.
We've all had the opposite experience when under stress as well. The first time I met my future wife's family, I was nervous as hell; during a frantically competitive word game after dinner, I blew the lead of the team consisting of my future mother-in-law and me by my utter inability at one critical juncture to remember the word "casserole." Some instances of failed memory revolve around infinitely greater traumas: the combat veteran who went through some unspeakable battle catastrophe, the survivor of childhood sexual abuse--for whom the details are lost in an amnesic fog. Stress can disrupt memory.