Facing stress: no effect of acute stress at encoding or retrieval on face recognition memory

Carey Marr, Conny W. E. M. Quaedflieg, Henry Otgaar, Lorraine Hope, Melanie Sauerland

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Eyewitnesses may experience stress during a crime and when attempting to identify the perpetrator subsequently. Laboratory studies can provide insight into how acute stress at encoding and retrieval affects memory performance. However, previous findings exploring this issue have been mixed. Across two preregistered experiments, we examined the effects of stress during encoding and retrieval on face and word recognition performance. We used the Maastricht Acute Stress Test (MAST) to induce stress and verified the success of the stress manipulation with blood pressure measures, salivary cortisol levels, and negative affect scores. To examine differences in stressor timing, participants encoded target faces or words both when confronted with the stressor and during the subsequent cortisol peak and retrieved these stimuli 24 h later. We found neither effects of acute stress on face recognition memory during encoding or retrieval (Experiments 1 and 2), nor effects of encoding stress on word recognition memory (Experiment 2). Bayesian analyses largely provided substantial or strong evidence for the null hypotheses. We emphasize the need for well-powered experiments using contemporary methodology for a more complete understanding of the effect of acute stress on face recognition memory.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103376
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalActa Psychologica
Early online date20 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021


  • stress
  • memory
  • emotion
  • arousal
  • eyewitness


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