Cortisol-induced impairments of working memory require acute sympathetic activation

Section of Clinical and Health Psychology, University of Leiden, Leiden, Netherlands.
Behavioral Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 2.73). 03/2005; 119(1):98-103. DOI: 10.1037/0735-7044.119.1.98
Source: PubMed


The present study assessed whether the effects of cortisol on working memory depend on the level of adrenergic activity (as measured by sympathetic activation) during memory performance. After exposure to a psychosocial stress task, participants were divided into cortisol responders and nonresponders. Cortisol responders showed working memory impairments during the psychosocial stress phase, when cortisol and adrenergic activity were enhanced, whereas nonresponders did not. During recovery, however, when cortisol levels were elevated but adrenergic activity was normalized, working memory of responders did not differ from that of nonresponders. Among several stress measures, cortisol was the only significant predictor for working memory performance during stress. These findings suggest that adrenergic activation is essential for the impairing effects of stress-induced cortisol on working memory.

Download full-text


Available from: K. Roelofs,
206 Reads
    • "Furthermore, there are individual differences in cortisol response, whereby some people do not respond to cortisol manipulations as sensitively as others (e.g. Kudielka, Hellhammer, & Wüst, 2009) and these differences may lead to differences in memory accuracy following a stressor (Buchanan et al., 2006; Elzinga & Roelofs, 2005; Khalili-Mahani et al., 2010). An additional concern with the abovementioned studies on cortisol and false memories is that participants were not separated into cortisol responders (i.e. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: For eyewitness testimony to be considered reliable, it is important to ensure memory remains accurate following the event. As many testimonies involve traumatic, as opposed to neutral, events, it is important to consider the role of distress in susceptibility to false memories. The aim of this study was to investigate whether cortisol response following a stressor would be associated with susceptibility to false memories. Psychological distress responses were also investigated, specifically, dissociation, intrusions, and avoidance. Participants were allocated to one of three conditions: those who viewed a neutral film (N = 35), those who viewed a real trauma film (N = 35), and a trauma "reappraisal" group where participants were told the film was not real (N = 35). All received misinformation about the film in the form of a narrative. Participants provided saliva samples (to assess cortisol) and completed distress and memory questionnaires. Cortisol response was a significant predictor of the misinformation effect. Dissociation and avoidance were related to confabulations. In conclusion, following a stressor an individual may differ with regard to their psychological response to the event, and also whether they experience a cortisol increase. This may affect whether they are more distressed later on, and also whether they remember the event accurately.
    Memory 10/2015; DOI:10.1080/09658211.2015.1102287 · 2.09 Impact Factor
  • Source
    • "A stressor capable of sustaining concurrent responses post-stress exposure has greater utility for studies examining the impact of stress on dependent variables. For example , the effects of stress on cognitive performance are often only observed during synergistic cortisol and sympathetic activation (Elzinga and Roelofs, 2005; Kuhlmann and Wolf, 2006); a relationship that would be difficult to examine using the SECPT. This paper reports the neuroendocrine, cardiovascular and subjective responses following repeated exposure to a combined physical and social evaluative laboratory stressor. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Repeated exposure to homotypic laboratory psychosocial stressors typically instigates rapid habituation in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis-mediated stress responses in humans. However, emerging evidence suggests the combination of physical stress and social evaluative threat may be sufficient to attenuate this response habituation. Neuroendocrine, cardiovascular and subjective stress responses following repeated exposure to a combined physical and social evaluative stress protocol were assessed to examine the habituation response dynamic in this context. The speech task of the Trier social stress test (TSST; Kirschbaum et al., 1993) and the socially evaluated cold pressor task (SECPT; Schwabe et al., 2008) were administered in a combined stressor protocol. Salivary cortisol, cardiovascular and subjective stress responses to a non-stress control and repeat stressor exposure separated by six weeks were examined in males (N=24) in a crossover manner. Stressor exposure resulted in significant elevations in all stress parameters. In contrast to the commonly reported habituation in cortisol response, a comparable post-stress response was demonstrated. Cortisol, heart rate and subjective stress responses were also characterised by a heightened response in anticipation to repeated stress exposure. Blood pressure responses were comparatively uniform across repeated exposures. Findings suggest a combined physical and social evaluative stressor is a potentially useful method for study designs that require repeated presentation of a homotypic stressor.
    Psychoneuroendocrinology 09/2015; 63. DOI:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.09.025 · 4.94 Impact Factor
    • "A second possible factor, cortisol, has also been linked to impairments in working memory (Elzinga & Roelofs, 2005; Lupien et al., 1999). Stress-induced cortisol release is a good candidate as a mediator of the observed impairments in working memory after stress. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: A large and growing body of research demonstrates the impact of psychological stress on working memory. However, the typical study approach tests the effects of a single biological or psychological factor on changes in working memory. The current study attempted to move beyond the standard single-factor assessment by examining the impact of 2 possible factors in stress-related working memory impairments. To this end, 60 participants completed a working memory task before and after either a psychological stressor writing task or a control writing task and completed measures of both cortisol and mind wandering. We also included a measure of state anxiety to examine the direct and indirect effect on working memory. We found that mind wandering mediated the relationship between state anxiety and working memory at the baseline measurement. This indirect relationship was moderated by cortisol, such that the impact of mind wandering on working memory increased as cortisol levels increased. No overall working memory impairment was observed following the stress manipulation, but increases in state anxiety and mind wandering were observed. State anxiety and mind wandering independently mediated the relationship between change in working memory and threat perception. The indirect paths resulted in opposing effects on working memory. Combined, the findings from this study suggest that cortisol enhances the impact of mind wandering on working memory, that state anxiety may not always result in stress-related working memory impairments, and that high working memory performance can protect against mind wandering. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).
    Emotion 06/2015; DOI:10.1037/emo0000096 · 3.88 Impact Factor
Show more