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A group of German and Dutch scientists conducted a study on how stress can affect people’s memory of strangers’ personality traits after a first impression. Students were presented with portraits accompanied by a positive or negative behavioral description, before stressing half of them by submerging their hands in ice-cold water. The following day, new portraits, as well as the previous ones, were presented with single-word trait-adjectives. Participants were then asked to write the trait adjective for the portraits presented earlier. This procedure showed that students exposed to stress recalled better the positive personality traits associated with the portraits presented the day before, when compared to students who were not stressed. The authors interpreted this finding as an indication that during stressful circumstances, people have a predisposition to remember better genuine potential helpers.

Title: Stress strengthens memory of first impressions of others’ positive personality traits.

Authors: Johanna Lass-Hennemann, Linn K. Kuehl, André Schulz, Melly S. Oitzl, Hartmut Schachinger

Journal: PloS One. 2011, January 26:6(1): e16389.