Memory Consolidation: Psychobiology of Cognition

By Herbert Weingartner; Elizabeth S. Parker | Go to book overview

10 Retrograde Facilitation of Human Memory by Drugs

Elizabeth S. Parker National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Herbert Weingartner National Institute of Mental Health


INTRODUCTION

The emotion then would seem to have the power to go behind mere imagery into these dispositions or traces, and to strengthen them and the connections by which they may be called into life. And not only the traces of the experience which aroused the emotion, but also of the trivial and neutral events antecedent to the emotion itself ( Stratton, 1919, p. 486)

Hidden in the archives of psychopharmacological research lies information about a curious phenomenon: Human memory can be enhanced when certain drugs are administered after a subject studies a to-be-remembered event. This defines operationally the retrograde facilitation effect that has been observed with diverse agents that powerfully affect emotions and have a high liability for abuse (e.g. alcohol, valium, nitrous oxide). It is an interesting phenomenon both in its own right and because of the questions it raises about the mechanisms and cognitive significance of human consolidation processes.

The present chapter draws together data bearing on drug-induced memory facilitation and analyzes its possible explanations. The basic thesis will be that certain drugs enhance memory consolidation through the activation of systems related to reward and reinforcement. We shall propose that stimulation of neural systems subserving reward enhances consolidation of memory traces that have already been encoded at the conceptual level. Keeping in mind that drugs have multiple actions, a stimulating action of a drug on memory consolidation could be mediated separately and partially independently from depressant effects on encoding and retrieval.

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