Date of Award

Summer 2007

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Nelson, Kristy A.

Second Advisor

Saunders, Stephen

Third Advisor

Sheikh, Anees


Arousing events, whether physical or emotional, are often better remembered (McGaugh, 2000) than more mundane events. The biological basis of this phenomenon is not completely understood, but extensive research has associated it with catecholamine stress hormones released by the adrenals that activate secondary signals in the brain (Nielson & Jensen, 1994; McGaugh, 2000) and with increased glucose release at times of heightened arousal (Parent, Vamhagen, & Gold, 1999). Importantly, while heightened arousal typically occurs during an emotional event, research shows that the manipulation of arousal can preferentially influence memory even when it occurs shortly after the event (Nielson, Radtke, & Jensen, 1996; Nielson & Powless, 2007). A study by Nielson and Jensen's (1994) revealed the specific effect of manipulating physical arousal via muscle tension on long-term memory in older adults. Retention of a word-list was examined while inducing physical arousal by having participants squeeze a hand dynamometer shortly after reading a paragraph with highlighted words. As expected, the words were better recalled by those in the hand dynamometer condition. Given the effectiveness of their technique, and the many unsuccessful attempts at developing memory interventions for older adults, the present study was designed to replicate and extend Nielson and Jensen's (1994) study by using a muscle-tension-based, at-home memory intervention over a two-week interval with healthy older adults to examine the effects of repetitive arousal on the retention of everyday memory tasks. Increased memory retention for the take-home tasks was expected in those who used the arousal intervention along with a memory diary, compared with those who used the diary alone.



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