A study from the University of Waterloo, Canada, has found that manageable levels of anxiety can aid people in being able to recall the details of events.
The study of 80 undergraduate students found that when levels of anxiety got too high or descended into fear, it could lead to the colouring of memories where people begin to associate otherwise neutral elements of an experience to the negative context.
Myra Fernandes, professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo, said: “People with high anxiety have to be careful.” She added: “To some degree, there is an optimal level of anxiety that is going to benefit your memory, but we know from other research that high levels of anxiety can cause people to reach a tipping point, which impacts their memories and performance.”
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe.
Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life; however, some people find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily lives.
Anxiety is the main symptom of several conditions, including:
- Panic disorder;
- Phobias – such as agoraphobia or claustrophobia;
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and
- Social anxiety disorder (social phobia).
The study, published in the journal Brain Sciences, saw the 80 students from the university complete the experiment. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to a deep encoding instruction group, while the other half were assigned to a shallow encoding group. All participants completed the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales.
The research revealed that individuals with high levels of anxiety showed a heightened sensitivity to the influences of emotional context on their memory, with neutral information becoming tainted, or coloured, by the emotion with which it was associated during encoding.
Christopher Lee, a psychology PhD student, said: “By thinking about emotional events or by thinking about negative events this might put you in a negative mindset that can bias you or change the way you perceive your current environment.”