18.03.03 Anxiety

March 2, 2018
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The Power
(Not Paralysis)
of Anxiety

New neuroscience study out of Canada finds a certain level of anxiety *may* help us remember.

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About the Study:

  • 80 participants screened on their levels of anxiety & then asked to study a set of words
  • Next, the words were shown to them over various images – some neutral pics & some negative.
  • Only difference in their memory recall? Those with high levels of anxiety remembered the words more accurately when they were shown over the negative images.

What Might This Mean?

People with some anxiety may remember an event or moment more vividly, but with a tainted negative light that may be unwarranted.

Reaffirmed anxiety ‘sweet spot’: some anxiety helps us rememberA a too much might make our memory recall less accurate.

“Having butterflies in your stomach might actually make that information more memorable to you later on.”



Myra Fernandes, Professor, University of Waterloo, Department of Psychology, and co-author of the study
‘I think a practical takeaway from this study is to be aware of the biases you’re bringing to the table and know that they might affect how you’re seeing everything and remembering it later.’



Christopher Lee, Professor, University of Waterloo, Department of Psychology, and co-author of the study

Researchers gave a terrific example of how negative memory recall works – Check it out!

Overall, that could mean that anxious people have a memory advantage over non-anxious people, says Fernandes, especially in emotional situations. But it also has a downside: It shows how people can adopt a negative retrieval mode when recalling events, which could lead to biased memories. For people with high anxiety, the emotional context in the background tainted their later memory of these words that were otherwise neutral, says Fernandes.A Co-author Christopher Lee says most people have probably experienced this type of memory bias at some point. Say you”re having the worst day possible—you slept through your alarm, you slipped and fell in mud—and then the barista atA StarbucksA asks you a totally neutral question, like if you want whipped cream on your mocha, he says. Because you entered this situation in such a negative mindset, you may remember him being rude or hostile or horrible for some reason, even when he”s not.

by Jenna Lee,

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