Studies on how acute stress affects learning and memory have yielded inconsistent findings, with some studies reporting enhancing effects while others report impairing effects. Recently, Joëls et al. [Joëls, M., Pu, Z., Wiegert, O., Oitzl, M.S., Krugers, H.J., 2006. Learning under stress: how does it work? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10, 152-158] argued that stress will enhance memory only when the memory acquisition phase and stressor share the same spatiotemporal context (i.e., context-congruency). The current study tested this hypothesis by looking at whether context-congruent stress enhances declarative memory performance. Undergraduates were assigned to a personality stress group (n=16), a memory stress group (n=18), or a no-stress control group (n=18). While being exposed to the acute stressor or a control task, participants encoded personality- and memory-related words and were tested for free recall 24h later. Relative to controls, stress significantly enhanced recall of context-congruent words, but only for personality words. This suggests that acute stress may strengthen the consolidation of memory material when the stressor matches the to-be-remembered information in place and time.
Smeets, T., Giesbrecht, T., Jelicic, M., & Merckelbach, H. (2007). Context-dependent enhancement of declarative memory performance following acute psychosocial stress. Biological Psychology, 76(1-2), 116-123. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2007.07.001