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Neurobiology of Learning and Memory
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Emotional and arousing treatments given shortly after learning enhance delayed memory retrieval in animal and human studies. Positive affect and reward induced prior to a variety of cognitive tasks enhance performance, but their ability to affect memory consolidation has not been investigated before. Therefore, we investigated the effects of a small, non-contingent, intrinsic or extrinsic reward on delayed memory retrieval. Participants (n = 108) studied and recalled a list of 30 affectively neutral, imageable nouns. Experimental groups were then given either an intrinsic reward (e.g., praise) or an extrinsic reward (e.g., $1). After a one-week delay, participants’ retrieval performance for the word list was significantly better in the extrinsic reward groups, whether the reward was expected or not, than in controls. Those who received the intrinsic reward performed somewhat better than controls, but the difference was not significant. Thus, at least some forms of arousal and reward, even when semantically unrelated to the learned material, can effectively modulate memory consolidation. These types of treatments might be useful for the development of new memory intervention strategies.