Anxiety’s Effect on Memory

Could anxiety actually help you remember you something better? A new research study says that this may, in fact, be the case. The 2017 study done by Christopher Lee and Myra A. Fernandes found that the initial encoding context a person has is capable of influencing how a person remembers that information at a later date. The basics of this study found that if people have higher anxiety they are more likely to have negative emotions and thoughts. These negative feelings will put the individual in a negative mind frame which in turn makes certain events or stimuli more memorable.

The study found that the participants who had anxiety developed a downstream bias in their encoding and also in the retrieval process of information. The researchers mentioned that there have been previous studies that have found that high anxiety levels can have a negative impact on people cognitive functions. For this study, the participants were all people who could manage their anxiety to the point where it would no become crippling and debilitating to them. The researchers also mentioned that their study was completed with traditionally college-aged individuals and that the results might differ depending on the age group being tested.


This article personally interested me because there are times where I am able to remember a memory about a negative event that happened to me years ago. I have always wondered why I am capable of remembering it even though the event was insignificant when I look back at it. It feels like I am able to remember it perfectly and like I am able to watch the replay of the event in my head. But then when it comes to positive memories, I am less able to remember all the details about the event. I know my mother is able to remember the time in her childhood when she accidentally pushed her best friend off a wall and her friend broke her arm. It has been over 50 years since this event happened but she says she is still able to remember all of it. But when asked about going to school dances with her friends, she is unable to fully remember all the details.

This article helped me better understand why those pesky negative memories sometimes pop up in our heads at random times.


Lee, C., & Fernandes, M. A. (2018). Emotional Encoding Context Leads to Memory Bias in Individuals with High Anxiety. Brain Sciences8(1), 6.

Nierenberg, C. (2018, March 01). How a Little Bit of Anxiety May Improve Your Memory. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from



3 thoughts on “Anxiety’s Effect on Memory

  1. spassley

    I think this article is interesting. I would be curious to know if the negative effects from anxiety affect school work as well. It is quite normal for students who are studying to be in a more negative mood and avoid long terms of studying. Study and school causes a lot of stress and anxiety and I would think that it would affect the memory and emotion/bias the same way.

  2. mshifflett4

    This is interesting because I feel like if I experience a bad memory or something that causes me high anxiety, I am going to try to forget about it or get it out of my head. I don’t want to dwell on it. I want to get through it and move on in a way.

    I would also like to know if this was seen in schoolwork as well. If I am anxious and stressed about a test, would I do better on it than a test I felt confident in and didn’t worry or study as much for? Would the material then be drilled in my brain because I had such a hard time studying and getting frustrated with the whole thing??

  3. russellb

    I feel as if you have anxiety than you might be able to recall information better, but also might affect how you remember it because if you have high anxiety chances are you can’t stop thinking about whatever it is that’s on your mind. If you are stressed about school then while studying you will circulate everything that could go wrong while not focusing on what you actually need to. If being highly anxious and stressed for a test could be a good thing than I have been doing it wrong for many years.

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