Forget about it: Understanding and preventing stress-induced impairments in intentional mnemonic control


We can control our recollections and thoughts by trying to remember certain experiences while trying to forget others, i.e., intentional mnemonic control (IMC). Unfortunately, it appears that IMC fails exactly when this adaptive function is of utmost importance: when we experience highly negative, or even traumatic, events. As such, deficits in IMC have been reported in stress-related disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
To effectively address this public health concern, it is critical to understand how the healthy brain controls emotional memories and when and why it fails. Given that stress impairs dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) functioning and that the dlPFC is the key neural substrate of IMC, I hypothesize that the stress-induced breakdown of IMC in the dlPFC contributes to not forgetting specific emotional experiences (i.e., intrusions).
Using the imagine/no-imagine paradigm, I will investigate to what extent, and how acute stress 1) affects IMC of fears, and 2) its neural basis in dlPFC alpha oscillations using electroencephalography (EEG; study_I). Moreover, I will further investigate the moderating role of anxiety and the combined and independent roles of the two major stress hormones – noradrenaline and cortisol – in impaired IMC using pharmacological manipulation (study_II). To enhance IMC of fears, I will boost dlPFC responsivity using non-invasive brain stimulation. I will test whether transient alternating current stimulation (tACS) over the dlPFC reduces the detrimental effect of acute stress on IMC of fears in healthy participants (study_IIIA) and can boost IMC in patients with PTSD (study_IIIB).
Delineating how stress influences IMC is pressingly needed to advance our theoretical understanding of stress-related disorders, and to design NIBS interventions counteracting the debilitating effects of stress to reduce symptoms such as intrusions in PTSD and extensive worrying in anxiety. This may ultimately reduce patients’ psychological burden and the associated health care costs.





Dr. C.W.E.M. Quaedflieg

Verbonden aan

Maastricht University, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Clinical Psychological Science


Dr. C.W.E.M. Quaedflieg


01/09/2019 tot 31/12/2023