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Dr. Derrick Hassert, Trinity psychology professor, and his colleagues knew that memories were solidified when the body released adrenaline during stress, but they were not certain why. Their research, conducted at the University of Virginia, may have shed some light on memory and learning while also introducing a possible treatment for degenerative diseases.

Hassert collaborated with Dr. Cedric Williams and Dr. Teiko Miyashita to study how the release of epinephrine is related to the activation of the vagus nerve, which carries sensory messages to the brain. Epinephrine - commonly known as adrenaline - does not enter the brain when it is released in the body. Their findings were summarized in the April issue of Monitor On Psychology, a monthly magazine published by the American Psychological Association.

"Our research aims to explain how emotion influences memory and learning," said Hassert, who holds a doctoral degree in biological psychology. "Most memories have strong emotional attachments to them, so we wanted to explain why the activation of the vagal nerve improves memory and learning.

"Electrical stimulation of the vagus results in the release of norepinephrine in the amygdale, a brain area known to be involved in emotion and learning. During normal periods of arousal and stress, the release of epinephrine chemically activates the vagus nerve in a similar manner and signals the brain that something important has happened."

Vagal nerve stimulation is used currently to treat epilepsy in an attempt to reduce the occurrence of seizures. As research continues, there is a remote possibility that scientists can devise a way for vagal nerve stimulation to treat other brain disorders.

Hassert's contributions to the research team began in 1997 as a graduate student at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, where he earned his doctorate in 2000. He completed his postdoctoral research in 2003 before joining Trinity's psychology faculty in August.

Related Link:
Derrick Hassert Faculty Profile

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