Two experiments examined the effect of differing levels of emotional arousal on learning and memory for words in matching and mismatching contexts. In Experiment 1, experienced skydivers learned words either in the air or on the ground and recalled them in the same context or in the other context. Experiment 2 replicated the stimuli and design of the first experiment except that participants were shown a skydiving video in lieu of skydiving. Recall was poor in air-learning conditions with actual skydiving, but when lists were learned on land, recall was higher in the matching context than in the mismatching context. In the skydiving video experiment, recall was higher in matching learn-recall contexts regardless of the situation in which learning occurred. We propose that under extremely emotionally arousing circumstances, environmental and/or mood cues are unlikely to become encoded or linked to newly acquired information and thus cannot serve as cues to retrieval. Results can be applied to understanding variations in context-dependent memory in occupations (e.g., police, military special operations, and Special Weapons and Tactics teams) in which the worker experiences considerable emotional stress while learning or recalling new information.
Thompson, Laura A.; Williams, Keith L.; L'Esperance, Paul R.; and Cornelius, Jerffrey, "Context-Dependent Memory under Stressful Conditions: The Case of Skydiving" (2001). Faculty Publications - School of Nursing. 11.