Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Stress and Working Memory

Did you know that Psychologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have figured out how stress interferes with one’s ability to pay attention, focus, and create working memory? Working memory is both short-term (seconds) and flexible, allowing the brain to hold a large amount of information close at hand to perform complex tasks. Without it, you would have forgotten the first half of this sentence while reading the second half. They watched neurons functioning in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, part of the brain that is vital to working memory. The neurons communicated on a scale of every thousandth of a second. In addition, they knew what they did one second to one-and-a-half seconds ago. In the presence of a stressor, however, while the neurons became even more active, they were reacting to other things and failed to retain information about what they did a second or so ago. The conclusion was that stress-related impairment of this mechanism is believed to contribute to the cognition-impairing actions of stress.

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