Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version


Document Type



Robicheaux, T.R. (2015). Stress and eyewitness Memory: Timing of stressor and association with cortisol stress responding. PhD dissertation, University of Nebraska--Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Psycholog,y Under the Supervision of Professor Brian H. Bornstein. Lincoln, Nebraska: March, 2015

Copyright (c) 2015 Timothy R. Robicheaux


Witnesses to and victims of criminal events can face significant stress during such encounters. Stress responding consists of a multitude of responses (e.g., anxiety, cardiovascular changes, cortisol responding). In the current study, I utilized a physiological stressor (i.e., the cold-pressor test) and a facial recognition paradigm to examine the relationship between cortisol change following stress exposure and memory accuracy. More specifically, I examined whether cortisol levels at specific memory stages (i.e., acquisition and retrieval) predicted stress responding differently.

Findings suggested that individual differences in cortisol stress responding to the cold-pressor test predicted facial recognition when peak cortisol was at a time of retrieval but not during acquisition. The findings demonstrate that individuals who experienced a stressor but saw a subsequent decline in cortisol from control to the time of retrieval had a higher hit rate in memory for faces than did those in a control group or those who had an increase in cortisol levels from control to retrieval.

These findings provide further evidence that researchers must consider individual differences in stress responding when studying the stress and eyewitness memory relationship. Further, these findings suggest the importance of examining multiple markers of stress responding. Finally, the findings emphasize the importance of considering the relationship between cortisol stress responding and eyewitness memory across different memory stages. Such research suggests a greater need for consideration of stress during retrieval in field.

Adviser: Brian H. Bornstein