Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Anxiety Good For Memory Recall, Bad For Solving Complex Problems

Date:
November 5, 2004
Source:
Ohio State University
Summary:
Students, keep this in mind before that next major exam: Pre-test jitters make it easier to recall memorized facts, but that stress also makes it tough to solve more complex problems.

SAN DIEGO – Students, keep this in mind before that next major exam:

Pre-test jitters make it easier to recall memorized facts, but that stress also makes it tough to solve more complex problems.

Researchers at Ohio State University gave a battery of simple cognitive tests to 19 first-year medical students one to two days before a regular classroom exam – a period when they would be highly stressed. Students were also given a similar battery of tests a week after the exam, when things were less hectic.

While pre-exam stress helped students accurately recall a list of memorized numbers, they did less well on the tests that required them to consider many possibilities in order to come up with a reasonable answer. A week after the exam, the opposite was true.

"Other studies have suggested that elevated stress levels can actually improve some aspects of cognition, particularly working memory," said Jessa Alexander, a study co-author and a research assistant in neurology at Ohio State. "The results of the two problem-solving tests we administered suggested a decline in problem solving abilities that required flexible thinking."

She conducted the study with David Beversdorf, an assistant professor of neurology at Ohio State. The two presented their findings on October 25 in San Diego at the annual Society for Neuroscience conference.

"We already know how the immune and endocrine systems of healthy medical students react to stress, along with how students respond behaviorally to this kind of stress," Beversdorf said.

"But how students react cognitively has largely been ignored."

The researchers gave 19 medical students three tests each. The first test assessed short-term memory – students listened as the researchers read strings of up to 9 numbers. The students were then asked to write down the exact sequence they had just heard.

The other tests evaluated how well the participants could solve specific problems. In one test, students were given a list of three words and asked to think of one word that, when combined with each of the three given words, would make compound words or a short phrase. For example, students were given way, ground and weather, for which the answer was "fair," to create fairway, fairground and fair-weather.

For the second problem-solving test, students were to fill in the only blank spot on a grid that had a series of shapes and symbols. They were given a list of possible solutions and asked to choose the shape or symbol that best fit with the other shapes in the grid.

Students performed better on the memory test one to two days prior to the exam, when their stress levels were presumably at their peak, and worse on the problem-solving tests.

A week after the exam, students were given a similar round of cognitive tests. This time, the students did slightly worse on the memory test, but had improved on the word and shape tests.

"There was a clear relationship between cognitive function and stress levels," Beversdorf said. "The students didn't think flexibly right before their exam, typically a time of great stress."

During acute stress – which many medical students experience prior to an exam – the body releases a compound called norepinephrine. Known as a "fight or flight" compound, norepinephrine allows the body to react quickly to an immediate threat.

While measuring norepinephrine levels was beyond the scope of this study, based on findings in other studies the researchers think that elevated levels of the compound prior to an exam may have helped boost students' memories.

"Even though norepinephrine may help a student recall memorized facts, it could also hinder his ability to think flexibly – that is, to solve problems that require selecting one of many possibilities using associative information," Beversdorf said. "Right before the exam, students had more difficulty answering the problem-solving questions."

The researchers are collecting more data from a new group of medical students this fall. Future work may lead to efforts to help quell pre-exam anxiety.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke funds Beversdorf's research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ohio State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Ohio State University. "Anxiety Good For Memory Recall, Bad For Solving Complex Problems." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 November 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/10/041030154601.htm>.
Ohio State University. (2004, November 5). Anxiety Good For Memory Recall, Bad For Solving Complex Problems. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/10/041030154601.htm
Ohio State University. "Anxiety Good For Memory Recall, Bad For Solving Complex Problems." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/10/041030154601.htm (accessed July 22, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Do Obese Women Have 'Food Learning Impairment'?

Do Obese Women Have 'Food Learning Impairment'?

Newsy (July 18, 2014) Yale researchers tested 135 men and women, and it was only obese women who were deemed to have "impaired associative learning." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Does Mixing Alcohol and Energy Drinks Boost Urge To Drink?

Does Mixing Alcohol and Energy Drinks Boost Urge To Drink?

Newsy (July 18, 2014) A new study suggests that mixing alcohol with energy drinks makes you want to keep the party going. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pot Cooking Class Teaches Responsible Eating

Pot Cooking Class Teaches Responsible Eating

AP (July 18, 2014) Following the nationwide trend of eased restrictions on marijuana use, pot edibles are growing in popularity. One Boston-area cooking class is teaching people how to eat pot responsibly. (July 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Understanding D.C.'s New Pot Laws

Understanding D.C.'s New Pot Laws

Newsy (July 17, 2014) Washington D.C.'s new laws decriminalizing small amount of marijuana went into effect Thursday. Here's how they work. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins