Effects of hydrocortisone on false memory recognition in healthy men and women

Moritz Duesenberg*, Juliane Weber, Carmen Schaeuffele, Juliane Fleischer, Julian Hellmann-Regen, Stefan Roepke, Steffen Moritz, Christian Otte, Katja Wingenfeld

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Most of the studies focusing on the effect of stress on false memories by using psychosocial and physiological stressors yielded diverse results. In the present study, we systematically tested the effect of exogenous hydrocortisone using a false memory paradigm. In this placebo-controlled study, 37 healthy men and 38 healthy women (mean age 24.59 years) received either 10 mg of hydrocortisone or placebo 75 min before using the false memory, that is, Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM), paradigm. We used emotionally charged and neutral DRM-based word lists to look for false recognition rates in comparison to true recognition rates. Overall, we expected an increase in false memory after hydrocortisone compared to placebo. No differences between the cortisol and the placebo group were revealed for false and for true recognition performance. In general, false recognition rates were lower compared to true recognition rates. Furthermore, we found a valence effect (neutral, positive, negative, disgust word stimuli), indicating higher rates of true and false recognition for emotional compared to neutral words. We further found an interaction effect between sex and recognition. Post hoc t tests showed that for true recognition women showed a significantly better memory performance than men, independent of treatment. This study does not support the hypothesis that cortisol decreases the ability to distinguish between old versus novel words in young healthy individuals. However, sex and emotional valence of word stimuli appear to be important moderators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)635-642
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Neuroscience
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Cortisol
  • False memory
  • Sex differences
  • Stimulus valence
  • Stress

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