Worrying Today Could Mean Worrying Tomorrow

The participants were divided into two groups. Half were given a memory test about 30 minutes after getting out of the scanner. The other half were called back two weeks later for the same test.

During the test, the participants viewed hundreds of photos and indicated which ones they remembered having seen while they were in the scanner.

Although the participants who took the test 30 minutes after the scanner were more accurate than those who waited two weeks, one fact stood out.

Those who showed the most intense amygdala and hippocampus activity were the best, even two weeks later, so the memory was being incorporated into the long-term memory system.

Although the research is directed toward clinical applications, Nitschke thinks there's something in it for those of us who like to consider ourselves normal.

He calls it the "power of expectancy."

He says current research shows that anticipation, or expectancy, can have a big impact on memory, and how we deal with stressful situations.

It also works for good memories.

"The more time you spend anticipating something, or getting excited about it, seems to be key to whether you will remember it," he said.

Good professors already know that.

"If they have one thing they want their students to remember, they don't just come out and say, 'Take this message home,'" he said.

They work the students up first, tease them along for awhile, and then spring the biggie on them. That way, they're more likely to remember it.

But what about the negatives? Nitschke has one bit of advice: Turn up the music.

"If somebody is getting all caught up in worry, and is hyper-focused on what's about to happen, and how it's going to be a horrible experience, that anticipation is just going to reinforce the memory of how bad it was. It's going to become increasingly difficult to deal with it again," he said.

So, spend enough time preparing, he says, and then "get yourself distracted."

"Call up a friend and go laugh with somebody," he said. "Find something that's going to pull your mind away from doing this high-level worry."

If you follow that advice, he says, you're less likely to remember if you screw it up.

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