Memory for objects and startle responsivity in the immediate aftermath of exposure to the Trier Social Stress Test

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Abstract

Previously, we observed enhanced long-term memory for objects used (central objects) by committee members in the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) on the next day. In addition, startle responsivity was increased. However, response specificity to an odour involved in the stressful episode was lacking and recognition memory for the odour was poor. In the current experiments, immediate effects of the stressor on memory and startle responsivity were investigated. We hypothesised memory for central objects of the stressful episode and startle response specificity to an odour ambient during the TSST to be enhanced shortly after it, in contrast to the control condition (friendly TSST). Further, memory for this odour was also assumed to be increased in the stress group. We tested 70 male (35) and female participants using the TSST involving objects and an ambient odour. After stress induction, a startle paradigm including olfactory and visual stimuli was conducted. Indeed, memory for central objects was significantly enhanced in immediate aftermath of the stressor. Startle responsivity increased at a trend level, particularly with regard to the odour involved in the stressful episode. Moreover, the stress group descriptively tended towards a better recognition of the odour involved. The study shows that stress enhances memory for central aspects of a stressful situation before consolidation processes come into play. In addition, results preliminarily suggest that the impact of stress on startle responsivity increases in strength but decreases in specificity during the first 24 h after stress exposure.

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