Memory and Adrenaline

J.L. McGaugh has examined how emotional arousal influences memory consolidation. In particular, he has found that stress hormones, such as cortisol, mediate much of the effects of emotional arousal on subsequent retention of the event. These hormones, in turn, activate a variety of brain structures, including the amygdala, which appears to play a key role in modulating memory consolidation.

An implication of our research is that experiences that are emotionally arousing (within limits, of course) should result in strong memories. To my knowledge, this implication has not been examined in the context of experiential learning courses. Most of the research with human subjects has focused on memory for events — not memory for techniques or skills. There is much research that could be done on this problem.

“There is a lot of evidence from animal studies, and some recent very exciting evidence from human studies, that indicates that your body’s adrenaline system, which gets pumping when you get emotional about something, actually feeds back to your brain and helps you to remember those emotional events better than you would non-emotional events.” …  “It makes sense that not all of our memories are stored equally well. Things that are more important to us, more emotionally arousing, should be stored better on average than those that are not.” (Cahill)