Aversive learning strengthens episodic memory in both adolescents and adults

Alexandra O. Cohen, Nicholas G. Matese, Anastasia Filimontseva, Xinxu Shen, Tracey C. Shi, Ethan Livne, Catherine A. Hartley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adolescence is often filled with positive and negative emotional experiences that may change how individuals remember and respond to stimuli in their environment. In adults, aversive events can both enhance memory for associated stimuli as well as generalize to enhance memory for unreinforced but conceptually related stimuli. The present study tested whether learned aversive associations similarly lead to better memory and generalization across a category of stimuli in adolescents. Participants completed an olfactory Pavlovian category conditioning task in which trial-unique exemplars from one of two categories were partially reinforced with an aversive odor. Participants then returned 24 h later to complete a recognition memory test. We found better corrected recognition memory for the reinforced versus the unreinforced category of stimuli in both adults and adolescents. Further analysis revealed that enhanced recognition memory was driven specifically by better memory for the reinforced exemplars. Autonomic arousal during learning was also related to subsequent memory. These findings build on previous work in adolescent and adult humans and rodents showing comparable acquisition of aversive Pavlovian conditioned responses across age groups and demonstrate that memory for stimuli with an acquired aversive association is enhanced in both adults and adolescents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)272-279
Number of pages8
JournalLearning and Memory
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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