Do Stress and Anxiety Impact Memory? An Exploratory Portuguese Study


  • Laura Alho Lusófona University of Humanities and Technologies
  • Pedro F. S. Rodrigues School of Psychology, University of Minho, Braga, Portugal
  • Cátia Fidalgo EPVC, Lusófona University of Humanities and Technologies, Lisbon, Portugal



Eyewitness memory is widely studied in the forensic context, due to their proneness to make unreliable testimonies. Understanding which factors may impact memory is determinant to avoid wrongful convictions in court. In this exploratory study, the relation between stress and anxiety and memory errors (spontaneous and induced) was analyzed being hypothesized that negative emotions may impair memory performance. Crime and neutral videos were presented to 80 volunteer university students in a between subject-design. They were asked to fill some stress and anxiety scales throughout the experimental task, as well as a free recall task. Also, it was presented several questions about the videos in which spontaneous and induced errors were assessed. Results suggests that stress and anxiety did not influence the quantity of memory errors for both genders. However, overall memory performance was poor for both groups. Our results were discussed in light to existing theories about the relation between stress-anxiety and memory.


Memory errors, Testimony, Stress, Anxiety, Forensic psychology


[1] Davies, G.M. and Griffiths, L.. “Eyewitness identification and the English courts: A century of trial and error”, Paper presented at the 30th International Conference of the Academy of Law and Mental Health, Padua, Italy, 2007.

[2] Pinto, A. C.. “Uma análise experimental sobre a credibilidade das identificações efectuadas por testemunhas oculares”, Revista de Investigação Criminal, 1986, 21: 67-72.

[3] Deffenbacher, K., Bornstein, B., McGorty, K, and Penrod, S.. “Forgetting the once-seen face: estimating the strength of an eyewitness’s memory representation”, J Exp Psychol-Appl, 2008, 14: 139-150.

[4] Odinot, G. and Wolters, G.. “Repeated recall, retention interval and the accuracy-confidence relation in eyewitness memory”, Appl Cognitive Psych, 2006, 20: 973-985.

[5] Pinto, A. C.. “Recordações verídicas e falsas: Avaliação de alguns fatores”. Psicologia, Educação e Cultura, 2002, 6: 397-415.

[6] Sauer, J., Brewer, N., Zweek, T., and Weber, N.. “The effect of retention interval on the confidence-accuracy relationship for eyewitness identification”, Law Human Behav, 2010, 34: 337-347.

[7] Wells, G. L. and Loftus, E. F.. “Eyewitness memory for people and events”. In A. M. Goldstein (Ed.), Handbook of psychology: Forensic Psychology. New York: Wiley, 2003: 149 –160.

[8] Devitt, A. L. and Schacter, D. L.. “False memories with age: Neural and cognitive underpinnings”. Neuropsychologia, 2016, 91: 346-359.

[9] Loftus, E. F.. “Creating false memories”, Sci Am, 1997, 277: 70-75.

[10] Laney, C.. “The sources of memory errors”, In Daniel Reisberg (Ed). The Oxford handbook of cognitive psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013: 232-242.

[11] Saraiva, R., Iglesias, F., Micas, G., Araújo, C., Lima, C., and Costa, M.. “Conformidade entre testemunhas oculares: efeitos de falsas memórias nos relatos criminais”, Psico-USF, 2015, 20: 87-96.

[12] Loftus, E. F.. “Eyewitness testimony”. Cambridge, M. A.: Harvard University Press, 1979.

[13] Loftus, E. F.. “Planting misinformation in the human mind: A 30-year investigation of the malleability of memory”, Learn Memory, 2005, 12: 361-366.

[14] Loftus, E. F. and Palmer, J. C.. “Reconstruction of automobile destruction”, J Verb Learn Verb Be, 1974, 13: 585-589.

[15] Stefanie, F. S., and Martine B. P.. “A comparison of adults witnesses suggestibility across various types of leading questions”, Appl Cognitive Psych, 2012, 26: 48-53.

[16] Luna, K. and Migueles, M.. “Acceptance and confidence of central and peripheral misinformation”, Span J Psychol, 2009, 12: 405-413.

[17] Freng, S. and Kehn, A.. “Determining true and false witnessed events: Can an eyewitness-implicit association test distinguish between the seen and unseen”, Psychiat Psychol Law, 2012, 20: 761-780.

[18] Lindsay, D. S.. “Memory source monitoring and eyewitness testimony”. In D. F. Ross, J. D. Read, & M. P. Toglia (Eds.), Adult eyewitness testimony: Current trends and developments. New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press, 1994: 27-55.

[19] Deffenbacher, K. A., Bornstein, B. H., Penrod, S. D. and McGorty, E. K.. “A meta-analytic review of the effects of high stress on eyewitness memory”. Law Human Beha, 2004, 28: 687-706.

[20] Siegal, J. M. and Loftus, E. F.. “Impact of anxiety and life stress upon eyewitness testimony”. Bull Psychon Soc, 1978, 12: 479-480.

[21] Valentine, T. and Mesout, J.. “Eyewitness identification under stress in the London Dungeon”. Appl Cognitive Psych, 2009, 23: 151-161.

[22] Houston, K. A., Clifford, B. R., Phillips, L. H., and Memon, A.. “The emotional eyewitness: the effects of emotion on specific aspects of eyewitness recall and recognition performance”, Emotion, 2013, 13: 118-128.

[23] Christianson, S.. “Emotional stress and eyewitness memory: A critical review”, Psychol Bull, 1992, 112: 284–309.

[24] Pozzulo, J. D., Crescini, C., and Panton, T.. “Does methodology matter in eyewitness identification research? The effect of live versus video exposure on eyewitness identification accuracy”, Int J Law Psychiatry, 2008, 31: 430–437.

[25] Reisberg, D. and Heuer, F.. “Memory for emotional events”. In D. Reiberg, P. Hertel (Eds.), Memory and emotion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004: 3-41.

[26] Aharonian, A. A. and Bornstein, B. H.. “Stress and eyewitness memory”. In Brian L. Cutler (Ed), Encyclopedia of Psychology and Law. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE Publications, 2008.

[27] Tucker, D. M. and Williamson, P. A.. “Asymmetric neural control systems in human self-regulation”, Psycholl Rev, 1984, 91: 185–215.

[28] Rodrigues, P., Pandeirada, J., Bem-Haja, P., and França, J.. “The Trait Anxiety Scale for Children: A validation study for European Portuguese children and adolescents”, Eur J Dev Psychol, 2017, 15: 472-480.

[29] Spielberger, C. D.. “Manual for the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory STAI (Form Y)”. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press, 1983.

[30] Roberts, P.. “Vulnerability to false memory: the effects of stress, imagery, trait anxiety, and depression”, Curr Psychol, 2002, 21: 240-252.

[31] Gabbert, F., Wright, D., Memon, A., Skagerberg, E., and Jamieson, K.. “ Memory conformity between eyewitnesses”. Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association, 2012, 48: 36-43.

[32] Areh, I.. “Gender-related differences in eyewitness testimony”, Pers Indiv Differ, 2011, 50: 559-563.

[33] Lindholm, T. and Christianson, S.. “Gender effects in eyewitness accounts of a violent crime”, Psychol Crime Law, 1998, 4: 323-339.

[34] Silva, D. R., and Spielberger, C. D.. “Manual do Inventário de Estado Traço de Ansiedade (STAI)”[Manual of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory]. Published by Mind Garden, Inc, 2007.

[35] Alho, L., Soares, S., Ferreira, J., Rocha, M., Silva, C., and Olsson, M.. “Nosewitness identification: Effects of negative emotion”, PLoS ONE, 2014, 10.

[36] Alho, L., Soares, S. C., Costa, L. P., Pinto, E., Ferreira, J. H., Sorjonen, K., ... and Olsson, M. J.. “Nosewitness identification: Effects of lineup size and retention interval”. Front Psychol, 2016, 7: 713.

[37] Kertzman, S., Aladjem, Z., Milo, R., Ben‐ Nahum, Z., Birger, M., Grinspan, H., … Kotler, M.. “The utility of the Visual Analogue Scale for the assessment of depressive mood in cognitively impaired patients”, Int J Geriatr Psychiatry, 2004, 19: 789–796.

[38] Garcês, S.. “Escala de Estilos de Pensar e Criar: Adaptação e validação à população portuguesa” (Mater’s thesis), University of Madeira, Funchal, Portugal, 2013.

[39] Paulo, R., Albuquerque, P., and Bull, R.. “A Entrevista Cognitiva Melhorada: Pressupostos teóricos, investigação e aplicação”. Revista Psicologia, 2014, 28: 21-30.

[40] Sharman, S. and Powell, M.. “A comparison of adult witnesses’ suggestibility across various types of leading questions”. Appl Cognitive Psych, 2012, 26: 48-53.

[41] Dobolyi, D. G. and Dodson, C. S.. “Eyewitness confidence in simultaneous and sequential lineups: A criterion shift account for sequential mistaken identification overconfidence”, J Exp Psychol-Appl., 2013, 19: 345-357.

[42] Mu, E., Chung, T. R. and Reed, L. I.. “Paradigm shift in criminal police lineups: Eyewitness identification as multicriteria decision making”, Int J Prod Econ, 2017, 184: 95-106.

[43] Clifford, B. R. and Hollin, C. R.. “Effects of the type of incident and the number of perpetrators on eyewitness memory”, J Appl Psychol, 1981, 66: 352-359.

[44] Ahola, A.. “How Reliable are eyewitness memories? Effects of retention interval, violence of act, and gender stereotypes on observers' judgements of their own memory regarding witnessed act and perpetrator”, Psychol Crime Law, 2012, 18: 491-503.

[45] Herlitz, A. and Rehman, J.. “Sex differences in episodic memory”, Curr Dir Psychol Sci, 2008, 17: 52-56.

[46] Soleti, E., Curci, A., Bianco, A., and Lanciano, T.. “Does talking about emotions influence eyewitness memory? The role of emotional vs. factual retelling on memory accuracy”, Eur J Psychol, 2012, 8: 632- 640.


How to Cite

Alho, L., Rodrigues, P. F. S., & Fidalgo, C. (2019). Do Stress and Anxiety Impact Memory? An Exploratory Portuguese Study. Journal of Psychological Research, 1(3), 31–38.


Article Type