Science University Research Symposium (SURS)

Negative Arousal and its Influence on Memory Recall

Publication Date



Sciences and Mathematics, College of


Psychological Science, Department of

SURS Faculty Advisor

Timothy Schoenfeld

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation


Research suggests that “positive” stressors, such as energy from exercising or excitement, arouse the body and improves memory (Winter et. al, 2007). Although exercise is physically arousing and enhances retention, less is known about more “negative” stressors such as frustration. Past research has shown that acute stress enhances memory, despite elevated cortisol levels and heart rate (Henckens et. al, 2009). Frustration is described as an emotional reaction to stress (Fillauler et al, 2019), but is unknown how it affects memory processing. Since frustration often accompanies stressful experiences, it is important to further understand the effects of frustration, independently, in affecting memory responses. We used a character searching task known as “Where’s Waldo” that varied in difficulty level to elicit frustration in participants, and a list of twenty words that the participant had to attempt to recall. We predicted that frustration will increase heart rate and therefore, increase memory recall ability. We found that as participants got more frustrated through each character searching task, their ability to memorize and recall the list of words in the allotted time got better. The frustration they experienced influenced their heart to beat faster which made their memory recall ability better. Our intention was to invoke a feeling of frustration which can be a strong emotion. That strong emotion can be what is needed to help reach a physically arousing threshold that allows the brain to retain the information and be able to recall it.

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