Memory formation and Cognitive Psych cliffhangers


Memory formation and Cognitive Psych cliffhangers

Here’s a thought: Is memory temporary in situations of stress? I find that my memory functions slightly different depending on the events overlapping my life.

For example, pressure is good for me to remember, but stress is bad. To me, pressure is extra incentive to achieve a reasonable goal and to push myself towards mildly unreasonable goals, hoping to achieve them with time. Stress is just chaos and unwanted confusion that makes me upset and does nothing decent for my adrenal system and the amount of panic one feels throughout the day.

Pressure helps me remember, because there is a direct necessity. Stress makes me grateful just to get something done, no matter how well I did it. The attention to detail goes down the garbage when I’m stressed, for a good reason: it isn’t nearly as necessary as figuring out how to find a solution.  I can regroup, evaluate, and plan for the next time once it’s over, but stress can turn your life upside down pretty immediately, and it often isn’t something a person can control.

Control is like crack for accomplishment, so it stands to reason that the more in control a person feels the more likely they are to pay attention to the feeling of achievement or failure when either of those things comes into one’s life.

But in terms of memory, can feeling “out of control” affect what exactly a person is able to remember? I think it must, and from what I know about stress, I think it would intensify how a person remembers in either direction. How exactly does that happen, if it does?

People think differently, and I’m not sure people would remember more when stressed, or that they would remember less. I think if you are a naturally forgetful person who thrives on pressure (classically stereotyped with semi-accuracy as a “procrastinator”), it stands to reason that you would remember less when you are stressed, because the feeling of chaos may be disorienting, and it feels as though stress may be more confusing than like the positive sense of pressure and having that guide one’s memory.

On the other hand, people who generally remember things and are very detail-oriented, operating in a way that is primarily focused and factual, may not be affected in that way by stress, or not nearly as much. They may be affected in other ways, I think. But I don’t think stress preys upon all of us the same in terms of cognition. Maybe it does, but to me, memory, language, communication, and basically all of cognitive psychology can be really up to interpretation.

I know when humans experience negative stress like I have mentioned, their brain uses a system of neurochemicals to signal the pituitary gland to secrete a hormone called adrenaline, which provides the sensation behind the fight or flight response. That is the function of the adrenal system, to help facilitate stress responses and provide adrenaline in moments of absolute necessity. But the idea of “fight or flight” seems very small and simplistic to still apply to humans. The theory goes back to behavioral observations of animals, and how in conflict, animals have the option to physically fight or decide to leave.

But to me, humans have a lot more options than that. Furthermore, if we are still sticking too just two options, I think some people are more disposed to fight vs. to leave, and that seems like an obvious thing, in terms of competition.

But some people think in the moment and can analyze and problem solve. I’m like that. Some people need to walk away and come back a few minutes later, once they’ve gathered their thoughts. Is that flight? Some people need to externally process, or write things out on paper, or do a myriad of things to process any kind of confusion, and I don’t think it is nearly so simple as a theory that fails to consider the enormous consequences of having a fabulous frontal lobe (#Thanks, Jesus). As human beings, we have the most high tech brains of all animals, and we clearly have the ability to think and reason, which comes from the front part of your brain, the frontal lobe. It helps people retain long term memories, and evaluate the consequences of their actions, and grows into maturity in people’s late 20s.

Clearly people don’t think clearly always when they are stressed. I wonder what effect that has on memory formation and human development over one’s lifespan.

Good think I’m taking Cognitive Psych this semester! For whatever reason, my classes always come at the right time, even when I pick completely random ones I have to take anyways. If I remember, I’ll let you know.




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I am a second-grade teacher and pastor-to-be who loves people. I spend my weekends with friends or wandering the museums of DC alone and with a journal, trying to put words on the places of the soul that still feel wordless. I spent most of my days at school trying to learn patience through my students and running on sheer nerdy passion. I follow Jesus Christ, and savor that as my most important identity--that I am a child of God, as are infinite others, regardless of their other identities. Christ is my one thing.

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