How State-Dependent Memory Works & Why it Matters

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State-Dependent Memory is defined as our efforts to remember certain events that are influenced by our mental and physiological states.

People usually find it easy to remember something if they are put in a similar state as when they originally learned it.

This implies that if an individual is in a completely different state to which they originally took in the memory, this makes their recall very hard and that’s where the state dependent or context-dependent memory comes.

7 Important Factors of State-Dependent Memory

Here are the seven important factors of state dependent memory.

1. Effect of Alcohol:

Alcohol is one of the leading factors of state-dependent memory. People usually don’t remember much after the intoxication by alcohol but when they are again put under the influence of Alcohol with the same environment, they are able to recall what happened the last time they were intoxicated.

Different series of experiments were conducted over a long period of time on people who are in the influence of alcohol to know if they would able to recall the events when they were intoxicated.

Alcohol has Unique Effect on State Dependent Memory
Alcohol has a Unique Effect on State-Dependent Memory

These experiments focused on keeping the same alcohol level and the same external environment as well. The results of these experiments showed that alcohol influence makes most of the people to easily recall an event which was happened before when they were intoxicated.

In one experiment, the researcher asked participants to hide alcohol and money when they were drunk and were later asked to locate them in the following morning when they were out of alcohol influence or in sober state and next week in a similar drunk condition.

The study derived that the group could not recall where they had hidden the alcohol and money in the morning when they were sober but they were able to locate it in the next week when they were drunk again.

2. Influence of Nicotine:

State-Dependent Memory does not simply rely on one thing but rather it is actually a mix of different dependent factors of remembering or recalling. Nicotine is one of the important factors of state-dependent memory.

Nicotine can help you recall old memories of past
Nicotine makes us able to recall our memories

Studies show that under the influence of nicotine, you are able to recall past events when again exposed to nicotine. For example, if a student consumes a cigarette or tea while studying for his exam, he would be able to recall what he has studied if he consumes the tea while doing his exam.

Similarly, friends and colleagues usually hangout and they smoke together. Even after the hangout ends, they would recall their best memories even when they are consuming the cigarette alone.

This clearly shows the significance and impact of nicotine on our daily lives when it comes to state-dependent memory.

3. Effect of Ritalin:

Ritalin is a medication that is used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD is a common problem in children and some adults as well. Because of this syndrome, they are unable to focus or give attention to a single topic.

To increase the attention span, Ritalin medication is prescribed by the doctors. Ritalin may help an individual with his concentration, attention, and listening skills.

Ritalin may make it easier for an individual to concentrate, fight with his fidgety behavior, and gain control of his actions. One may also find it quite easy to listen and focus due to the influence of Ritalin at his job or in school.

Similarly, when an individual is in the influence of Ritalin, his state-dependent memory is also affected by it. He may forget the events happened during the influence of Ritalin after its effect is finished. But he can easily recall the events if he is exposed to the influence of Ritalin again.

This makes Ritalin one of the important factors of state-dependent memory in our daily lives.

4. Effect of One’s Moods:

Mood reliance is also one of the important aspects of state-dependent memory. It helps memory when the mood at recovery is the same from the mood at the event being recalled. That’s why it is also called as mood dependent memory.

At the point when people encode a memory, they not just record tangible information, (for example, visual or sound-related information), they also store their mood and emotional conditions.

Moods can seriously effect State-Dependent Memory
Moods are Highly Linked to Memory

A person’s current mood in this way influences the memories that are easily accessible to them, to such an extent that when they are feeling great, they recall good memories.

The idea also explains that one will store good memories in a connected set. In this way, the probability of recalling an occasion is higher when memory and mood coordinate.

Although, it appears that only true moods have the ability to create a mood-dependent impact. For Example, if a person is happy at his certain success and listens to a song, it will create a strong memory that will come up whenever they listen to that particular song, and will immediately improve their mood when they hear the song.

5. The Feeling of Pain:

Feeling of pain and state-dependent memory has a great and true connection. Just like the feeling of joy and happiness, pain is also a big aspect of State-Dependent Memory. That’s why it also can be termed as context-dependent memory as we are looking at our pain with a context. 

A person may feel pain during different times of his lifetime. These memories of pain are usually irreparable and they are permanently fed into a person’s memories.

Pain memories are direct example of State-Dependent Memory
The Memories of Pain are always Unforgettable

For example, if a person experiences a humiliation in school or job, he will remember it till the end of life as no one in the world can forget the humiliation.

Similarly, the loss of a loved one is also gilded to people’s brains. A person also, cannot forget what he felt when he was faced with the loss of his loved one and all the effects of that scene. He will not forget how all of the events unfolded at that time.

6. Perception of Fear:

Fear is also linked to state-dependent memory in a variety of ways. It is the ability of our minds to frame a fear memory related to a circumstance so that it empowers us to gain from our past horrendous encounters and evade those dangerous circumstances later on in our lives.

For example, if a person has faced a kidnapping or a robbery in his house, this will create a fearful memory in his mind about these events and therefore, he can recall those horrific events anytime he is asked to so.

Fear has a strong link to State-Dependent Memory
Fear Memories can affect our Mind

Another example of state-dependent memory in fear can be a car accident.

During the car accident, the brain creates a set of multiple memories related to the traumatic event, e.g. visual information about accident place, hearing information such as a car crash, and the smell of materials burning from the accidental car.

The brain then integrates these memories into a huge condensed form and creates a memory that relates the accident with the context.

We can also see its impact on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), where overgeneralized and overstated fear reactions cause indications including bad dreams or undesirable recollections of the injury, shirking of circumstances that trigger recollections of the injury, elevated responses, uneasiness, and discouraged mind-set.

7. Impact of Circadian Rhythms:

Recent studies suggest that Circadian Rhythm is directly linked to memory and also to state-dependent memory. Circadian rhythm is fundamentally a 24-hour interior clock that is running out of sight of our brain and cycles among dizziness and awake states at regular intervals.

It’s otherwise called as our sleep/wake cycle.

Natural Clock is directly associated with State Dependent Memory
Our Natural Clock helps us to Memorize and Organize

State-Dependent Memory is related to Circadian Rhythm in such a way that if a person is getting enough sleep, he will not face dizziness and lethargy, so, his memory will eventually get stronger. Scientists have suspected before that memory and learning may be linked to multiple levels of how our brain functions.

An experiment performed by the researchers on hamsters at Stanford University has resulted in such a way when the circadian system of a body stops, its memory stops as well.

In a research paper published by the National Academy of Sciences, biologist Norman Ruby discovered that those hamsters who were deprived of their natural circadian systems acted, differently than normal hamsters as they were unable to recall their own environment.

That memory depends upon cues and can also be called as cue dependent memory.

According to researchers, the hamsters don’t recall anything.

For most grown-ups, the greatest plunge in their energy occurs in the night (somewhere close to 2:00 am and 4:00 am the point at which they’re normally sleeping) and soon afternoon (around 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm, when they will, in general, want a post-lunch rest).

Those occasions can be unique in case one is normally an evening person or a morning individual. One may also do not feel the rises and falls of your circadian rhythm regularly in case one is resting for a good period of time. When you’re restless, you will see greater swings of dizziness and active cycles.


These are the seven most important factors of state-dependent memory. It does not look like a logical thing at first instance that our emotions and our external environment may someway affect our ability to recall information but many studies above have shown the effects these emotions create on state-dependent memory.

Now as we understand how the context-dependent memory affects recall, it would appear logical that how certain emotions of fear, happiness, and sorrow affect our memory.

Also, it shows how incredible our mind is as it can easily recall the events happened in drunkenness. Similarly, how the influence of nicotine can help in recalling past events.

The state-dependent memory theory also shows that it has a universal widespread effect on every individual and it can also play a big role in everyday lives.

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