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Crisis Stress: Part 4 – Concentration, Memory, and Focus

By Dr. Robert Chandler:

In the first three parts of this short four-part essay series, I briefly summarized some of the ways in which a crisis affects people in terms of physiological reactions including the Acute Stress Response (ASR) and some (but not all) of the various psychological and cognitive effects of such stress on crisis mangers and their performance. In this fourth and final essay in this series, I will cover some of the recent research on diminished memory and recall abilities rising from acute stress factors during crises.

Acute crisis stress affects many memory functions and other cognitive functioning of the brain. There are different levels of stress and the high levels can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Acute stress is a stressor that arises from an immediate perceived threat. The research on the effects of acute crisis stress on human memory and recall paints a complex portrait that resists simple descriptions. The main line of research findings suggests that acute crisis stress can impair both short and long-term memory, and one’s ability to recall even well-rehearsed skills, abilities and behaviors, as well as the formation of new memories that would have expected to have formed during crisis contexts.

While other studies have to the contrary suggested instances where acute stress can enhance memory both in terms of recall and the formation of new memories during peak periods of acute stress. It is useful to remind ourselves that different people experience acute stress differently and not all of us react to experienced stress the same way as others even when we do experience it. It is possible that uncertain certain circumstances and for certain people that acute stress might function to suppress memories and either aid or hinder the formation of new memories.

This excerpt from “Crisis Stress: Part 4 – Concentration, Memory, and Focus” is published with permission from Firestorm. Read the full post via Firestorm here.

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