Why Our Brain May Not Be Able to Work Under Stress?
A lot of people are not aware that stress might interfere with memory and learning. We seem to underestimate stress. When we’re under stress, all the knowledge we believe we had might magically disappear from our mental repository.
Suddenly we might notice that there is nothing there, in fact, we might find ourselves in a situation where there is nothing at all. It might feel as if something just removed all traces of what we’ve known earlier.
You shouldn’t be scared when this happens. You should know that this is very common since stress might easily hijack our capability to encode and retrieve information from stored memories.
As a matter of fact, it is said that stress can annihilate our capability to retrieve old memories. This provides an explanation of why people often blank out in times of these kinds of memory-related performances.
So, the inevitable question comes:” How and why does this happen?” And the more important question is:” Can people overcome stress?” One team of neuroscientists sought to discover the neural underpinnings of memory retrieval, stress, and learning.
The Neuroscience of Memory
You should know that the memory can be altered times when presented with memory-related info, which makes the memories to be highly malleable.
The mPFC (medial prefrontal cortex) of the brain is the one that detects if the incoming info is in somehow linked to such stored memories.
Then what happens when people are shown new info which doesn’t link to any of their current memories? Neuroscientists have come to the discovery that the latest info is handled by a separate brain region known as the name hippocampus.
Just recently, the role that the hippocampus has in processing info for memory function led one team of neuroscientists to additionally examine the role stress has when it comes to integrating memories and new info.
More About the Findings of the Study
In this study, the scientists used a task specially made to provoke stress in a lab setting. This task simulated a 15-minute job interview that involved public speaking in front of a crowd of stern-faced evaluators.
After 15 minutes of being stressed out, the participants were asked to learn 2 different kinds of info. One kind was linked to the memories the participants already held, and the other kind showed entirely new info.
The scientists noticed changes in the brain activity in the participants with the help of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) while the participants learned the two kinds of info.
The scientists came to the discovery that while the participants were part of memory-related learning, there is raised activation of the Mpfc (medial prefrontal cortex).
Moreover, they found that the hippocampus lit up at a time when the participants went through new info processing.
Last but not least, the scientists came to the discovery that there is an impairment in the activity of mPFC in times of learning when the test subjects were put under stress. The final result was a poorer performance on the task.
More About This
This study offers a neural explanation for why we experience altered memory abilities and learning when we encounter fear.
The scientists also came to the discovery that there is raised brain activity in the mPFC when the test subjects were asked to learn memory-related info. Moreover, new info was linked to raised hippocampal activity.
But more relevant were the findings that excessive stress actually led to a decrease in the activity of mPFC while processing the info related to memory.
These changes in brain activity due to stress might explain the way stress disrupts the use of prior knowledge to ease tasks related to memory.
Let’s hope that this study has the potential to help us understate situations involving mental disorders related to stress where people report distorted memory functions like GAD, i.e., a generalized anxiety disorder.
Also, it might come with vital implications for areas that explore educational settings where stress has a significant role in performance.