Does Acute Stress Impact Declarative and Procedural Learning?

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It is well established that acute stress can influence memory function, yet its influence may differ across memory systems. Whereas stress sometimes exerts a negative influence on declarative learning, it does not necessarily harm learning in general, as demonstrated in the case of procedural learning. Probabilistic category learning is mediated by the striatum, but delaying feedback by a few seconds shifts learning to become more hippocampal-dependent. Here, we examined the influence of acute stress on this type of learning, under different conditions that favor either procedural-based (immediate feedback) vs. declarative-based (delayed feedback) learning. Sixty-two participants randomly assigned to either stress or non-stress groups, performed a probabilistic category learning task, in which they were instructed to learn associations between cues and outcomes under different feedback conditions (immediate feedback, short-delayed feedback, and long-delayed feedback). Acute stress was induced by the Maastricht Acute Stress Test (MAST), and stress levels were gauged by Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) measures and a self-reported questionnaire. Results showed that although the MAST was effective in inducing stress, this did not harm learning in either of the feedback conditions. These findings suggest that not all hippocampal-based learning types are negatively influenced by stress.

Original languageEnglish
Article number342
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
StatePublished - 26 Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2020 Ballan and Gabay.


  • category learning
  • delay feedback
  • feedback-based learning
  • hippocampus
  • incremental learning of stimulus-response associations
  • procedural learning
  • stress
  • striatum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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