The Effects of Psychosocial Stress on Memory and Cognitive Ability: A Meta-Analysis

Elizabeth McManus, Deborah Talmi, Hamied Haroon, Nils Muhlert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The impact of stress on cognitive abilities, such as memory, is well documented in animal studies but it is not yet clear how stress in human social interactions affects memory. This review systematically explored the evidence regarding the effects of psychosocial stress on memory and associated cognitive abilities. PubMed, PsycInfo and Web of Science databases were searched for studies assessing the effects of psychosocial stress on long-term memory or related cognitive functions. Fifty-one studies were identified and compared based on the timing of stress induction. No overall effect of psychosocial stress induction was seen on long-term or working memory regardless of whether stress induction occurred following encoding or before retrieval. Psychosocial stress had a moderate effect in studies comparing memory for emotional compared to neutral stimuli, but the direction of this effect varied across studies. Psychosocial stress decreased performance on executive function tasks. Our findings demonstrate that psychosocial stress may not have the clear effects on memory previously ascribed to it, suggesting potentially different mechanisms from physiological stressors.
Original languageUndefined
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2020

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