Men Remember Things Better When Stressed Out

Stress creates a number of psychological and physiological changes in a person. When someone is under stress, his or her heart rate increases, blood pressure can rise, and the person may break out in a sweat. Psychologically, emotions may run high, and thinking may become fuzzy or extra sharp. For students, test taking presents a unique type of stress. Under such conditions, students must maintain cognitive composure, perform under a time restriction, and still accurately retrieve educationally relevant information. So just how does this type of stress affect recall? In an effort to examine this effect, Almut Hupbach of the Department of Psychology at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania recently led a study involving 37 men and 38 women.

On the first day of the study, participants were told to memorize a passage of scientific information. On the second day, they were given either a neutral or stressful stimulus and prompted to recall the information they had memorized. At this time, Hupbach measured their cortisol levels through saliva. On the third and final day of the study, participants were instructed to recall the information again, this time in the absence of any stress. The findings revealed that the stressful conditions raised the cortisol levels in the men, but also sharpened their accuracy. Specifically, the men in the stressful condition performed better on recall than those in the neutral condition. This occurred in the immediate recall test and on the delayed, day two, recall experiment. “This shows that moderate stress does not only have immediate effects on retrieval, but can improve retention after a delay,” Hupbach said.

Hupbach did not discover this same effect in the women. Although some of the women did have slightly increased levels of cortisol after they were exposed to the stressful condition, they did not have increases in recall as a result. This could be due in part to the birth control hormones that were present in some of the women, but how that affected stress was not directly tested in this study. When the participants were instructed to recall the information on the third day, the increased performance levels of the men had returned to normal. These findings suggest that under the right circumstances, mild stress can benefit a man’s ability to recall certain information.

Hupbach, Almut, and Rachel Fieman. Moderate stress enhances immediate and delayed retrieval of educationally relevant material in healthy young men. Behavioral Neuroscience 126.6 (2012): 819-25. Print.

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  • Caden


    December 13th, 2012 at 2:05 PM

    I do not know about all men but stress does seem to work for me.I always tend to perform better under stress.Now to say all men do the same would not be accurate but maybe its the hormones at play here.Men may benefit from stress better than women.

  • bobbi


    December 13th, 2012 at 4:22 PM

    sorry, but stressed or not my man remembers nothing unless I hit him over the head with it

  • Frank


    December 13th, 2012 at 11:12 PM

    Surprised to see that stress actually helps. Because its always the opposite with me. And how about conducting the study while applying stressful conditions to the participants during the memorizing phase? I’m pretty sure the results would be different!

  • Joe Franks

    Joe Franks

    December 14th, 2012 at 4:13 AM

    Ok I will give you that this could be true for men, because I do happen to know a lot of guys who seem to thrive under pressure and do their best work when they are just a little stressed. But women? Forget it. It’s not that they CAN”T handle it, but I think that there are many who simply have too much going on to be able to channel it into something that is a positive motivator instead of something that just overwhelms then instead.

  • Debra Kelli

    Debra Kelli

    December 14th, 2012 at 7:35 AM

    I love Bobbi’s response. I was thinking the exact same thing!!!!!!!

  • sam


    December 14th, 2012 at 7:37 AM

    Well thats the weerdest thing i ever heard. i will be sure to tell my wife not to yell at me anymore when i come home stressed from work but i will have to show her this first cuz she wont believe me. i just hope i remember to show it to her. hahahaha!

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