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Stress reduces attention to irrelevant information: Evidence from the Stroop task



Stroop interference can be reduced by stress, and this has been taken as evidence that stress decreases the attention paid to irrelevant information, a theory known as ‘Easterbrook’s hypothesis’. This contradicts more recent theories, which state that attentional control deteriorates in stress. Fifty-five participants undertook a Stroop task under high stress (loud white noise) and low stress conditions. Attention to the irrelevant word information was assessed by manipulating the proportion of congruent trials (e.g. the word RED in the colour red); it is known that Stroop interference increases when many such trials are presented. This effect was reduced when participants were stressed, which is evidence that stress does indeed reduce attention to irrelevant information. This pattern of results was not present in participants with low working memory spans, presumably because these participants had less attentional control. These findings highlight an important weakness in contemporary theories of cognition in stress.
Stress reduces attention to irrelevant information: Evidence
from the Stroop task
Rob Booth ÆDinkar Sharma
ÓSpringer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009
Abstract Stroop interference can be reduced by stress,
and this has been taken as evidence that stress decreases the
attention paid to irrelevant information, a theory known as
‘Easterbrook’s hypothesis’. This contradicts more recent
theories, which state that attentional control deteriorates in
stress. Fifty-five participants undertook a Stroop task under
high stress (loud white noise) and low stress conditions.
Attention to the irrelevant word information was assessed
by manipulating the proportion of congruent trials (e.g. the
word RED in the colour red); it is known that Stroop
interference increases when many such trials are presented.
This effect was reduced when participants were stressed,
which is evidence that stress does indeed reduce attention
to irrelevant information. This pattern of results was not
present in participants with low working memory spans,
presumably because these participants had less attentional
control. These findings highlight an important weakness in
contemporary theories of cognition in stress.
Keywords Stroop Selective attention Stress
Working memory Easterbrook’s hypothesis
Easterbrook’s hypothesis (Easterbrook 1959) states that
emotional individuals pay less attention to ‘peripheral’ (i.e.,
less relevant) information. Easterbrook did not himself
specify the mechanism behind this effect; presumably stress
overloads the attention system to some extent, and so reduces
the attention resources available for allocation to less rele-
vant information (c.f. perceptual load, Lavie et al. 2004).
Easterbrook’s hypothesis has been supported by results
indicating that stressed participants show reduced Stroop
interference. In the Stroop task (Stroop 1935), participants
ignore the meaning of words and respond to the colour in
which they are presented; Stroop interference is the differ-
ence in response time or accuracy between incongruent trials
(e.g., the word RED in green print) and control trials (e.g.
??? in green print). The word information is irrelevant, so
its influence should be reduced under stress because less
attentional resources are allocated to it (Easterbrook did not
specifically posit a spatial narrowing of attention, as is
sometimes suggested).
This prediction has been repeatedly supported. For
example, O’Malley and Poplawsky (1971) used a traditional
Stroop task, with multiple stimuli presented on cards. Par-
ticipants who were stressed by hearing loud bursts of white
noise were generally faster at this task, and showed less
interference, compared to participants who performed the
task in silence. O’Malley and Gallas (1977) replicated this
finding with an improved control condition: participants
exposed to bursts of white noise at 85 dB showed reduced
interference compared to those exposed to noise at 75 dB.
Chajut and Algom (2003, Experiment 2) also replicated this
in a similar experiment using a more modern computer-
controlled single-trial Stroop task, and also showed that
Stroop interference could be reduced by a very difficult fake
This research was carried out while Rob Booth was a doctoral student
at the University of Kent, supervised by Dinkar Sharma.
R. Booth (&)D. Sharma
Department of Psychology, Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience
and Cognitive Systems, Keynes College, University of Kent,
Canterbury CT2 7NP, UK
D. Sharma
Motiv Emot
DOI 10.1007/s11031-009-9141-5
IQ test. Substances that increase physiological arousal have
also been found to reduce interference (Callaway 1959;
Kenemans et al. 1999).
Easterbrook’s (1959) hypothesis has been neglected in
more recent theories of cognition in emotion, which tend to
claim that attentional selection deteriorates with stress or
anxiety (e.g. Eysenck et al. 2007; Mathews and Mackintosh
1998): Eysenck et al. predict that Stroop interference should
increase in anxious states (see Pallak et al. 1975). Therefore,
the fact that interference is usually found to decrease seems
to present a problem for recent theories of cognition in
anxiety. If this problem is to be accepted, it must be shown
that stress’s effects on Stroop interference do indeed result
from improved selectivity, and not from some strategy
change made by the participants. For example, it is possible
that stress simply increases the participants’ motivation
levels (c.f. McFall et al. 2009), so that they wish to complete
the task (and escape the stress manipulation) as quickly as
possible. This will lead to an overall decrease in RTs.
Responding more quickly could mean a smaller Stroop effect
because less time has elapsed for interference to build
up to affect performance. It is therefore important to dis-
count a strategic explanation of stress’s effects on Stroop
One way to address whether stress-related decreases in
Stroop interference are strategic is to simultaneously assess
the attention paid to the irrelevant word information with
another method. For example, if many congruent trials (e.g.,
BLUE in blue print) appear in the Stroop task, interference
increases (Kane and Engle 2003; Lindsay and Jacoby 1994).
Although the cause of this ‘proportion-congruent’ effect is
still controversial (Blais et al. 2007), it is clear that such a
manipulation can only affect participants’ behaviour if they
attend to the irrelevant word information to some degree. If
stressed participants attend less to the irrelevant word
information, they should be less likely to notice the con-
gruent trials and their behaviour should not change. In other
words, the Stroop interference shown by stressed partici-
pants should be unaffected by the proportion of congruent
trials presented, and remain low.
This pattern would not be expected if stress’s reduction of
Stroop interference was due to some strategic factor. Pre-
senting congruent trials increases the salience of the dis-
tracter words, because a correlation is introduced between
the colour information and the word information (see
Melara and Algom 2003). This makes the irrelevant word
information harder for the participant to ignore, Melara and
Algom argue, because the attention system is predisposed to
seek out such correlations. If stress’s reduction in Stroop
interference is caused by some strategic change—i.e., if the
irrelevant word information is still processed in stress—then
the correlation between word information and colour
information will still decrease the participants’ ability to
inhibit the distracter words, and will still increase interfer-
ence. In other words, the proportion-congruent effect in
stress and non-stress conditions should be equal. On the
other hand, if stress does indeed decrease attention to the
irrelevant word information as Easterbrook’s (1959)
hypothesis implies, then this correlation is more likely to go
unnoticed, and the proportion-congruent effect should be
small in the stress condition.
To increase the power of the experiment, participants’
working memory (WM) spans were assessed. Although
WM span ostensibly relates to the storage capacity of
memory, it is also related to the control of attention, and
the maintenance of task goals (De Fockert et al. 2001;
Kane and Engle 2003; Lavie et al. 2004). This attention
control aspect of working memory has been present since
its inception (see Baddeley 1992), and some theorists have
suggested that individual differences in working memory
span may be largely or entirely attributable to attention
control, rather than storage capacity per se (Kane et al.
It therefore seems reasonable that WM span and stress,
if they both relate to attention control and/or selectivity,
will interact in their effects on Stroop interference. Spe-
cifically, at any given moment, participants with higher
WM spans (‘high spans’) are more likely to be treating as
irrelevant information which actually is irrelevant to their
task, and those with lower WM spans (‘low spans’) are
more likely to be suffering a ‘slip’ of attention and mis-
takenly treating target colour information as irrelevant.
Easterbrook’s hypothesis suggests that attention resources
are withdrawn from irrelevant stimuli, but if the aspect of a
Stroop stimulus that is treated as irrelevant is less consis-
tent for low spans, then they would be expected to show
less consistent stress effects. High spans on the other hand
are more likely to maintain attentional control to selec-
tively attend to the target colour so that stress decreases
Stroop interference. For this reason, high and low spans
were identified after the experiment so that their perfor-
mance could be compared.
To summarise, the present experiment investigated
whether Stroop interference was reduced in stress, partic-
ularly in groups with high WM spans. A constant white
noise at 84 dBC was used to induce stress; this was found
to be effective by Chajut and Algom (2003), and a similar
manipulation was used by O’Malley and colleagues
(O’Malley and Gallas 1977; O’Malley and Poplawsky
1971). The proportion of congruent trials was also
manipulated. If stress reduces attention to irrelevant
information as described by Easterbrook (1959), stressed
participants should not notice this manipulation, and their
behaviour should not change in response to it. WM span
was assessed, as it was predicted that the above pattern of
results should be more clear in high spans.
Motiv Emot
Sixty-three participants (50 females), aged 17–59 years
(M=22) took part in the experiment. All were native
English speakers with normal or corrected hearing andvision.
They received £5 or course credit for their participation.
The Stroop task employed a 2 9392 within-participants
design. The factors were Trial Type (incongruent or con-
trol), Proportion-Congruent (proportion of congruent trials
within the block: 0, 25 or 50%), and the Volume of the
noise (stressful, 84 dBC, or unstressful, 65 dBC).
Apparatus and stimuli
The experiment was run using a Dell Inspiron 510 M
computer running E-prime v1.0.1, a CRT monitor, and a
PST response box. A chin rest was positioned one metre
from the screen. Noise was created using Philips SBC
HC202 headphones with the transmitter switched off (this
produces a broad-range hiss). Volumes were set using a
TES 1351 sound level meter.
As a manipulation check for stress, skin conductance
data were collected using a BIOPAC MP35. This recorded
at 10 Hz via 10 mm-diameter Ag–AgCl disposable elec-
trodes treated with isotonic gel, attached to the distal
phalanges of the third and fourth fingers of the left hand.
Stimuli subtended 0.9°vertically and averaged 3.4°
horizontally, and were presented in red, blue, yellow or
green print on a black background. Incongruent stimuli
consisted of a colour word presented in a contrasting col-
our, e.g. BLUE in green print. Congruent stimuli consisted
of a word in a matching colour, e.g. BLUE in blue print.
Control stimuli consisted of strings of three to six ?’s in
one of the four colours above. Neutral stimuli consisted of
a neutral word presented in one of the four colours. Words
were randomly selected for each participant from lists of
mono- and bi-syllabic words of up to eight letters, which
were matched for letter length, syllable length and CELEX
frequency (measured using Lexicus, Frankish 2002). These
later appeared as targets in a recognition test: no significant
effects were recorded, so further details are omitted.
Participants were seated in front of the screen, and the
procedure was explained. They were reassured about the
safety of the noise. The skin conductance electrodes were
applied and tested, and recording was initiated. During a
practice phase, participants familiarised themselves with
the task. Participants learnt the colour to which each button
corresponded, and were advised that speeded responding
was unnecessary. The experimenter left the room during all
phases of the Stroop task. The practice phase consisted of
the words ‘HOUSE’, ‘TREE’ and ‘CAT’, randomly pre-
sented 25 times in each of the four print colours. Each trial
began with a 1000 ms blank black screen before the
stimulus, which remained on-screen until a response was
made. The practice phase also served as a habituation
period for the skin conductance recording.
At the end of the practice phase the experimenter reit-
erated the nature of the task, stressing that the participant
should now respond as quickly and accurately as possible,
and explaining that three blocks of trials would be pre-
sented. The experimenter then set the headphones to the
required volume. The order of the two volume conditions
was counterbalanced across participants.
The first experimental phase consisted of three blocks,
one for each Proportion-Congruent condition. Each block
included 48 critical trials (24 control and 24 incongruent).
The 0% congruent block also included 48 neutral word
trials; the 25% congruent block included 24 neutral word
trials and 24 congruent trials; and the 50% congruent block
included 48 congruent trials. Note that the neutral trials
were present to replace the congruent trials without altering
the relative frequency of incongruent and control trials (see
Melara and Algom 2003); responses to these trials, and
indeed to congruent trials, were not analysed. The blocks
were presented in a random order, and trials were presented
in a random order within each block. Trials proceeded as in
the practice phase.
The experimenter then told the participant that they
would complete the experimental phase a second time, but
at the other volume. The second experimental phase con-
sisted of the same blocks as in the first phase, in a newly-
randomised order.
Ospan task
After the Stroop task participants completed the Ospan
WM test (Tuholski and Engle 2002), as described by
Turner and Engle (1989). The Ospan involves remember-
ing lists of words while solving arithmetic problems. The
task was controlled by the experimenter, and participants
responded on pre-printed sheets. Having completed the
Ospan, participants were given a full debriefing.
Overall accuracy was very high (M=0.95). Eight partic-
ipants made more than 10% errors; these participants were
Motiv Emot
considered as outliers, and removed from further analyses.
Including these cases does not change the overall pattern of
Ospan task
The Ospan is scored by summing the length of all completely
correct lists. Scores ranged between two and 32 (M=14.96,
SD =7.78), and fit the commonly-found distribution for the
task (Kane and Engle 2003). The sample was median split to
produce a high span group with scores of 15 and above
(N=26, M=21.85, SD =4.66) and a low span group with
scores of 14 and below (N=29, M=8.79, SD =3.76).
Skin conductance data
The skin conductance data were examined to gauge the
effectiveness of the stress manipulation. Data from two
participants were lost due to experimenter error. For the 53
remaining participants, data were averaged for each of the
six blocks of Stroop trials: these correspond to the chro-
nological order of the blocks. This was done to test whether
participants’ arousal levels varied with time.
These data were subjected to a 2 (Volume) 93
(Block) 92 (WM Group) ANOVA. There was a significant
interaction between Volume and Block (F(2,102) =7.41,
MSE =0.37, p\0.001, g
=0.13), such that the arousal
difference between Volume conditions decreased with time
(First block, 84 dBC: M=7.39 lS, SD =4.87 lS; 65 dBC:
M=7.02 lS, SD =4.79 lS. Second block, 84 dBC:
M=7.12 lS, SD =4.94 lS; 65 dBC: M=6.75 lS,
SD =5.09 lS. Third block, 84 dBC: M=6.94 lS,
SD =5.01 lS; 65 dBC: M=7.12 lS, SD =5.13 lS). This
shows that the stress manipulation was effective, although its
effectiveness disappeared in the final block. This does not
affect the Stroop results as these effects are distributedequally
across the three Proportion-Congruent conditions.
Stroop task
Correct response times were subjected to a participant- and
condition-specific outlier trimming procedure, using a non-
recursive moving criterion (Van Selst and Jolicoeur 1994).
Two interference scores were then calculated, one for
response time (incongruent–control, see Fig. 1) and one for
accuracy rate (control–incongruent). Note that interference
scores could not be calculated with congruent or neutral
trials, as these were not present in every Proportion-Con-
gruent condition: there were no congruent trials in 0% con-
gruent condition, and no neutral trials in 50% congruent
condition. RT interference was subjected to a 2 (Volume) 9
3 (Proportion-Congruent) 92 (WM Group) ANOVA.
There was a significant three-way interaction (F(2,106) =
4.17, MSE =5150, p\0.05, g
=0.07). Specifically,
among high spans the Proportion-Congruent effect was only
significant at 65 dBC (F(2,50) =6.01, MSE =5634,
p\0.01, g
=0.19) and not at 84 dBC (F(2,50) =2.00,
MSE =3111, p=0.15, g
=0.07); among low spans, the
Proportion-Congruent effect was significant at 84 dBC
(F(2,56) =9.53, MSE =5563, p\0.001, g
=0.25) but
not at 65 dBC (F(2,56) =0.85, MSE =6441, p=0.85,
There was also a Proportion-Congruent main effect
(F(2,106) =12.18, MSE =5316, p\0.001, g
=0.19) as
expected, but no other effects reached significance (all
Fs\1.5, all ps[0.2).
To test against a possible motivational account of stress’s
effects on Stroop interference, the RT analysis was repeated
with mean correct RTs to control trials (i.e., not interference
scores) as the DV. There was no effect of Volume
(F(1,53) =1.83, MSE =6217, p=0.18, g
=0.03, see
Table 1), and there were no interactions between Volume,
WM Group, and Proportion-Congruent (all Fs\0.8,
Fig. 1 Stroop response time interference scores (incongruent RT–
control RT) for high and low working memory span groups, under
stressful (84 dBC) and non-stressful (65 dBC) conditions (ms)
The Stroop data were re-analysed with the upper and lower tertiles
as the WM groups. The same pattern of results were found as reported
in Fig. 1. Furthermore, when Proportion-Congruent effects were
calculated by subtracting 0% condition interference scores from 50%
condition interference scores, it was found that Proportion-Congruent
effects in the 84 dBC condition tended to correlate negatively with
Ospan score (r(53) =-0.224, p=0.099); Proportion-Congruent
effects in the 65 dBC condition did not correlate with Ospan scores
(r(53) =0.123, p=0.26). These findings support our conclusions
from our median split analyses.
Motiv Emot
Accuracy interference scores were subjected to the same
analyses. There was a tendency for Volume to interact with
WM Group (F(1,53) =3.60, MSE =0.003, p=0.06,
=0.06), so that the louder noise tended to reduce inter-
ference for high spans (84 dBC: M=0.005, SD =0.032;
65 dBC: M=0.020, SD =0.040) and increase interference
for low spans (84 dBC: M=0.011, SD =0.044; 65 dBC:
M=0.002, SD =0.041). However, these simple effects did
not approach significance (both Fs\2.6, both ps[0.12).
There was also a Proportion-Congruent main effect
(F(2,106) =5.24, MSE =0.004, p\0.01, g
=0.09), so
that interference was highest in the 50% congruent condition
(M=0.025), and much lower in the 25% (M=0.005) and
0% (M=-0.002) conditions. No other effects reached sig-
nificance (all Fs\0.6, all ps[0.5).
As predicted, stress effects on Stroop interference were
jointly moderated by Proportion-Congruent and WM
Group. This interaction (Fig. 1) supports the prediction
made above, that proportion-congruent effects will be less
apparent in stressed high spans. This is evidence that these
participants are indeed less aware of the irrelevant word
information, and therefore seems to support Easterbrook’s
(1959) hypothesis. This reduced proportion-congruent
effect also meant that high spans tended to show less
Stroop interference under stress, although this lower-order
interaction did not reach significance in its own right,
perhaps because it is subsumed within the significant
three-way interaction. The present work suggests the
intriguing possibility that the detectability of stress’s
reduction of Stroop interference depends upon the compo-
sition of the task itself. For example, high spans did not
show reduced interference under stress in the 0% congruent
condition, perhaps because they were already strongly
attending to the target colour (Kane and Engle 2003). Future
work will need to examine this possibility more closely.
Note that these effects cannot be easily attributed to an
increase in participants’ motivation (see, e.g., Huguet et al.
2004). Participants did not show a significant decrease in
RTs to control trials in the 84 dBC condition, which would
be expected if the loud noise motivated them to respond
quickly. Furthermore, if the noise motivated them to
respond as quickly as possible, they should have been
tempted to pay more attention to the irrelevant word
information in the 50% congruent condition, as this would
have enabled them to respond quickly and efficiently to the
large number of congruent trials presented in these blocks.
However, the 84 dBC noise reduced high spans’ interfer-
ence in this condition, suggesting that they were paying
less attention to the word information. Clearly, this is more
consistent with Easterbrook’s hypothesis than it is with a
strategic or motivational account.
This novel finding seems to contradict many recent
theories on how stress and anxiety affect cognition. In the
future, it will be important to further study this problem by
manipulating the salience of the irrelevant word informa-
tion using other methods (e.g., the size of the irrelevant
word: see e.g. Melara and Algom 2003).
Oddly, high spans appear to show more interference
than low spans in the 50% condition, when not under
Table 1 Mean correct response
times (RTs) and accuracy rates
(Acc.) from the Stroop task, by
Working Memory Span Group
(WM) and Proportion-
Congruent (P–C). Standard
deviations are in brackets
WM P–C Volume
Incongruent Control
RT Acc. RT Acc.
Low 0% 65 720 (130) 0.960 (0.056) 657 (95) 0.958 (0.042)
84 688 (77) 0.957 (0.032) 638 (84) 0.958 (0.051)
25% 65 735 (148) 0.961 (0.046) 668 (114) 0.954 (0.048)
84 708 (150) 0.944 (0.045) 663 (115) 0.954 (0.048)
50% 65 752 (141) 0.945 (0.073) 678 (102) 0.960 (0.045)
84 775 (168) 0.943 (0.062) 654 (97) 0.964 (0.041)
Total 65 736 (139) 0.955 (0.059) 668 (103) 0.957 (0.044)
84 724 (141) 0.948 (0.048) 652 (99) 0.959 (0.046)
High 0% 65 695 (124) 0.976 (0.038) 656 (81) 0.981 (0.024)
84 691 (109) 0.984 (0.027) 640 (92) 0.971 (0.035)
25% 65 735 (160) 0.963 (0.066) 665 (120) 0.976 (0.039)
84 714 (142) 0.968 (0.032) 667 (106) 0.971 (0.035)
50% 65 777 (181) 0.938 (0.075) 666 (95) 0.979 (0.029)
84 734 (137) 0.950 (0.059) 658 (96) 0.974 (0.036)
Total 65 736 (158) 0.959 (0.063) 662 (99) 0.979 (0.031)
84 713 (130) 0.967 (0.043) 655 (98) 0.972 (0.035)
Motiv Emot
This would contradict the notion that WM corre-
lates with goal maintenance. Previous work has found that
WM span differences in Stroop interference only appear
when there are many congruent trials, though high spans
should show less interference than low spans (e.g. Kane
and Engle 2003). However, Kane and Engle warned their
participants about the congruent trials, and instructed them
to remain focussed on the colour information; in the
present experiment, such a warning was not possible. Non-
stressed high spans may therefore have switched to an
easier word-reading strategy in the 50% congruent condi-
tion; this would have impeded their responses to incon-
gruent trials, leading to increased interference (see Lindsay
and Jacoby 1994).
One weakness of the present experiment is that it did not
directly assess participants’ mood with, for example, an
anxiety questionnaire. We feel that this is an acceptable
omission given our physiological validation of our stress
manipulation, together with the fact that loud noise manip-
ulations have a long history in stress research. Noise has also
been previously shown to increase arousal (Geen and
McCown 1984).
To summarise, stress reduced proportion-congruent
effects on Stroop interference, among participants with high
working memory span. This provides further evidence that
stress reduces the attention paid to irrelevant information
(Easterbrook 1959), and suggests stress’s reduction of
Stroop interference is not likely to be strategic in nature.
These effects remain a problem for theories stating that
anxious states decrease attentional control (e.g. Eysenck
et al. 2007; Mathews and Mackintosh 1998). Eysenck et al.
argue that Easterbrook-like effects in other paradigms (e.g.
Weltman et al. 1971) can be explained in terms of decreases
in attentional control: stressed individuals’ attention is
drawn to the most salient stimulus, but in these experiments
the most salient stimulus is actually the target, not the dis-
tracter. The present experiment suggests that such accounts
must be expanded to cover the Stroop task, where the dis-
tracter word is usually regarded as much more salient than
the target (Melara and Algom 2003). Future work should
attempt to reconcile these two apparently contradictory
theoretical positions.
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... As with spatial navigation and visuospatial memory, studies examining attention have shown inconsistent results with some showing facilitation and other impairments after exposure to acute stress. For example, Stroop-type selective attention performance increased after exposure to noise, time pressure, and social evaluation [28,29] with the implication that stress exposure may improve the ability to ignore irrelevant information. Including a task that leads to cortisol release via HPA activation, Schwabe and Wolf [30] used a Socially Evaluated Cold Pressor Test (SECPT) [31] to study the attentional blink [32] in male participants. ...
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Background Previous research has shown that spatial performance (e.g. navigation, visuospatial memory, attention) can be influenced by acute stress; however, studies have produced mixed findings sometimes showing an improvement after stress, other times showing impairment or no overall effect. Some of these discrepancies may be related to: the type of stress system activated by the stressor (sympathetic adrenal medulla [SAM] or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical [HPA]); whether cortisol responders vs. nonresponders are analyzed subsequent to main effects; and sex differences in stress responses. In the present study, we examine the influence of HPA activation from an acute laboratory stressor (Socially Evaluated Cold Pressor test [SECPT]) on performance during two spatial tasks: Useful Field of View (UFOV; a measure of spatial attention) and virtual reality (VR) navigation. We assigned 31 males and 30 females to either the SECPT or a Non-Stress condition prior to the two spatial tasks. Cardiovascular measures including heart rate and blood pressure, and salivary cortisol biosamples were obtained at specific time points. Results Participants in the Stress condition showed increases in heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure indicating sympathetic adrenal medulla (SAM) axis activation. Stress also led to increases in salivary cortisol, suggesting hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) activation. Stress did not influence overall performance in the spatial attention UFOV or the VR navigation task. However, a sex difference in spatial attention was detected when participants were divided into Stress-cortisol responders and non-responders in the UFOV task. Male Stress-cortisol responders (n = 9) showed better UFOV accuracy than female Stress-cortisol responders (n = 6); no sex differences were found among the Non-Stress control group. Furthermore, for females in the stress condition (n = 14), higher cortisol responses were associated with lower spatial attention performance. Conclusions Socially Evaluated Cold Pressor stress resulted in no change in speed or accuracy in a VR navigation task. For the spatial attention task, the SECPT led to a sex difference among Stress-cortisol responders with males showing improved accuracy over females. The relationship between HPA activation and prefrontal cortex activity may be necessary to understand sex differences in spatial attention performance.
... El equilibrio en los dos modos del sistema de estrés es esencial para la homeostasis celular, el rendimiento mental y la salud; mientras que su desequilibrio cambia las vías de señalización neuronal específicas subyacentes a dominios de la cognición y emoción (De Kloet, 2004). Por ejemplo, el estrés agudo reduce la atención hacia la información irrelevante durante una tarea de Stroop (Booth & Sharma, 2009); también afecta la memoria de matrices de información complejas y obstaculiza el rendimiento durante tareas de memoria retrasada (Olver, Pinney, Maruff y Norman, 2015). El estrés crónico da como resultado un cortisol elevado, que se ha relacionado con la degeneración neuronal en áreas del cerebro como el hipocampo, que participa en las funciones de aprendizaje y memoria (McEwen y Sapolsky, 1995). ...
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La deshonestidad académica es un problema que es observable en todas las modalidades educativas, aunque se considera más frecuente en la educación virtual, debido al mal uso que se podría dar a las habilidades digitales y tecnológicas que los estudiantes adquieren durante su proceso formativo. El capítulo analiza la diversificación de las prácticas de deshonestidad académica desde la perspectiva de los docentes y cómo influye la ausencia de normativas institucionales para prevenir y corregir este tipo de conductas de los estudiantes.
... El equilibrio en los dos modos del sistema de estrés es esencial para la homeostasis celular, el rendimiento mental y la salud; mientras que su desequilibrio cambia las vías de señalización neuronal específicas subyacentes a dominios de la cognición y emoción (De Kloet, 2004). Por ejemplo, el estrés agudo reduce la atención hacia la información irrelevante durante una tarea de Stroop (Booth & Sharma, 2009); también afecta la memoria de matrices de información complejas y obstaculiza el rendimiento durante tareas de memoria retrasada (Olver, Pinney, Maruff y Norman, 2015). El estrés crónico da como resultado un cortisol elevado, que se ha relacionado con la degeneración neuronal en áreas del cerebro como el hipocampo, que participa en las funciones de aprendizaje y memoria (McEwen y Sapolsky, 1995). ...
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En este capítulo realizaremos una revisión bibliográfica de la evolución, función y mecanismos neurales de las emociones sociales como parte de los procesos de cognición social. Por ello, pondremos las emociones sociales como parte de los mecanismos de cognición social, evolucionados a partir de la compleja dinámica de la vida en sociedad. Enseguida, se describe la evolución del procesamiento socioemocional y su función. Entenderemos función como el valor adaptativo de una característica (su valor en términos de sobrevivencia y reproducción), es decir, las consecuencias últimas (función adaptativa) ya que, entre éstas y el comportamiento que nos interesa puede haber una larga cadena de consecuencias inmediatas o intermedias. Se identifican sus componentes, los cuales se desarrollan a partir del mecanismo de la autorregulación centrado en el control de atención que, a su vez, involucra dos procesos: la regulación emocional y la memoria de trabajo. Asimismo, también revisaremos si estas emociones sociales son parte de las experiencias y competencias socioemocionales humanas tan importantes en términos del desempeño de los humanos en el ambiente social. También revisaremos los principales avances de la neurociencia cognitiva en relación con el desarrollo socioemocional, el cual se considera un concepto que deriva de la cognición social, ya que, en él, intervienen procesos que modulan las respuestas apropiadas en las interacciones sociales, donde se ponen en juego los intereses de un grupo inmediato e incluso de la especie. Para ello, desde una perspectiva de las diferencias individuales, se aborda cómo los fenómenos y las habilidades socioemocionales engloban funciones que integran la cognición-emoción. Se presentan los diversos modelos multidimensionales de la competencia socioemocional y posteriormente se describe la ontogenia de estas habilidades socioemocionales; ya que si bien el cerebro humano, debido a la evolución, al nacer viene equipado para regular su metabolismo, cuenta con dispositivos básicos para obtener conocimientos y comportamientos sociales. De tal manera que, se considera el papel de la sociedad y la cultura como parte del desarrollo socioemocional del ser humano así como su enorme capacidad de flexibilidad neuronal. Por ello, finalmente, se argumenta desde un enfoque interdisciplinar la plausibilidad y viabilidad de estrategias de intervención para el aprendizaje socioemocional.
... Additionally, the impact of stress on individuals' ability to inhibit distractions is unclear. Selective attention could be improved during the phase one stress response (Chajut and Algom, 2003;Booth and Sharma, 2009;Qi et al., 2018). This could mean that participants who experienced a phase one stress response may be better able to focus on a single task and may be less likely to notice an unexpected stimulus. ...
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Eyewitnesses are often susceptible to recollection failures and memory distortions. These failures and distortions are influenced by several factors. The present review will discuss two such important factors, attention failures and stress. We argue that acute stress, often experienced by eyewitnesses and victims of crimes, directly influences attentional processes, which likely has downstream consequences for memory. Attentional failures may result in individuals missing something unusual or important in a complex visual field. Amongst eyewitnesses, this can lead to individuals missing details, even unusual or important central details, regarding the crime. Surprisingly, few studies have investigated attentional failures in eyewitness scenarios, and none have investigated the relationship between stress, attention, and witness memory. This review will discuss the impact of attentional failures, mainly those resulting from inattentional blindness, in applied contexts in order to bridge to eyewitness scenarios. In addition, we will integrate the applied literature on attentional failures with literature that examines the influences of arousal and stress on attention. We will conclude by presenting how future research may tease apart the independent contributions of arousal and stress on attentional failures and successes and how this research may inform understanding of eyewitness reliability.
... The associations between stress and attention are also complex and are differentially related with the SNS and HPA axis stress response. In several previous studies, an improvement in selective attention for relevant information and an impairment for irrelevant information, related to the catecholamine response, have been reported [40][41][42]. The association between attention and the glucocorticoid response rather points in the opposite direction, i.e., higher glucocorticoid levels were associated with lower attentional performance [21,[43][44][45]. ...
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In this study, we investigated the associations between implicit associative learning with the cortisol and salivary alpha-amylase (sAA) stress response to an acute stressor as well as their associations with attention. Eighty one healthy adults (25 male) participated and either performed the socially evaluated cold-pressor test (SECPT) or a warm-water control task (WWT). Either prior to or immediately after the SECPT/WWT, participants implicitly learned digit-symbol pairs. A not-previously announced recall test was conducted about 20 min after the SECPT/WWT. Attention was assessed by means of a Stroop task at nine time points over the course of the experiment. Memory recall performance was not significantly associated with the acquisition time point (pre or post stressor) and did not significantly differ between the responder groups (i.e., non-responders, sAA-and-cortisol responders, only sAA responders, and only cortisol responders). Attentional performance increased throughout the experiment (i.e., reaction times in the Stroop task decreased). No differences in the attentional time course were found between the responder groups. However, some associations were found (puncorrected < 0.05) that did not pass the multiple comparison adjusted alpha level of αadjusted = 0.002, indicating different associations between attention and implicit learning between the responder groups. We conclude that the associations of sAA and cortisol responses with implicit learning are complex and are related to each other. Further studies in which both (sAA and cortisol responses) are selectively (de-) activated are needed. Furthermore, different learning tasks and less—potentially stressful—attentional assessments should be used in future research. Moreover, field studies are needed in which the associations between acute stress and implicit associative learning are investigated in everyday life.
... While anxiety can have a detrimental effect on cognitive control, a modest level of state anxiety may have the opposite effect (i.e., improve cognitive control) (Easterbrook, 1959). By increasing attention to taskrelevant stimuli and decreasing attention to task-irrelevant distractors, anxiety-induced narrowing of attention can improve cognitive control on some tasks (Booth & Sharma, 2009;Chajut & Algom, 2003;Hu et al., 2012;Pessoa et al., 2002). ...
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Patients with anxiety disorders suffer from impaired concentration, potentially as a result of stronger emotional interference on attention. Studies using behavioural measures provide conflicting support for this hypothesis. Elevated state anxiety may be necessary to reliably document differences in emotional interference in patients vs. healthy controls. The present study examines the effect of experimentally-induced state anxiety (threat-of-shock) on attention interference by emotional stimuli. Anxiety patients (n=36) and healthy controls (n=32) completed a modified Affective Stroop Task during periods of safety and threat-of-shock. Results indicated that in both patients and controls, threat decreased negative, but not positive or neutral, emotional interference on attention (both p<.001). This finding supports a threat-related narrowing of attention whereby a certain level of anxiety decreases task-irrelevant processing.
... Psychological stress reduces attention to irrelevant stimuli [33] and increases memory of stress-related stimuli, suggesting information processing bias during stress periods [34]. Experience stress may lead to more accurate processing of stressor-related information, but less accurate processing of other information [35]. ...
Previous studies have shown that eye activities, including blinks, can indicate the psychological state of an individual. However, almost all previous studies analyzing blinks merely concentrated on traditional descriptive statistics, which are unable to reflect their dynamic processes. Furthermore, the states of non-blink (opening the eyes) and blink alternate with each other, forming a physiological cycle. If we only investigate blinks alone, it may be inadequate to describe how blinking works. Therefore, we attempted to recognize the affective state (“relaxation” vs. “stress”) of an individual through the dynamics of blink and non-blink cyclicity (BNBC), as one example, to illustrate this method. First, the “Stroop Test” was employed for emotion elicitation. Then, features were extracted from a categorical time series (0: nonblink;1: blink), which was recorded by the eye-tracking system. Finally, the areas under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC) values were obtained via eight commonly used classifiers. The results show that, compared with the traditional approaches for blink analysis, BNBC exhibits more compelling proficiency to detect stress. In summation, BNBC can be considered a new type of psychophysiological measure, which could be widely applied in psychology, medicine, and engineering.
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This chapter shows how immediate memory represents a distinct system or set of processes from long memory. Working memory (WM) was proposed as a dynamic system that enabled active maintenance of task-relevant information in support of the simultaneous execution of complex cognitive tasks. Working memory span tasks measure executive attention processes that are believed to be domain general and contribute to WM span performance irrespective of the skills or the stimuli involved. WM span tasks reflect primarily general executive processes and domain-specific rehearsal and storage processes. Thus, executive processes help maintain or recover access to the target items in the absence of focal attention and effective rehearsal procedures. WM capacity variation, which is driven largely by individual differences in executive attention processes, represents a web of inference across correlational and experimental studies.
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Anxiety states are associated with increasedattention to threat and a greater likelihood of reachinga pessimistic interpretation of ambiguous events.Existing models of this selective processing possess features that are difficult to reconcile withcurrent experimental findings. In this paper we build onthese earlier ideas to develop a new model,incorporating adaptations that allow it to accountbetter for the accumulating data. Essential featuresare that attributes or meanings of stimuli are processedin parallel and compete for attentional resources. Inputfrom a threat evaluation system (TES) strengthens activation of threat-related attributes, to anextent influenced by anxiety level. Such activation canbe countered, within limits, by voluntary task-relatedeffort, and the balance between these opposing influences determines the extent of anyattentional or interpretative bias seen. Such a model isplausible from an evolutionary perspective and isconsistent with neurological evidence concerning theacquisition and extinction of aversiveconditioning.
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In 2 experiments with a total of 67 female undergraduates, performance on a modified version of the Stroop Color-Word Test varied systematically with level of task-irrelevant arousal. Performance under low response competition was facilitated while performance under high response competition was impaired by arousal manipulated by threat of impending electric shock. Results are consistent with traditional theory relating arousal or drive and response competition and suggest that Stroop task performance may thereby provide a behavioral index of arousal level. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Recent researchers have attempted to correlate measures of working memory (WM) with measures of higher level cognitive skills and abilities focusing on the functions of this limited capacity system, i.e., processing and storage. Relationships between three span measures of the functional model of WM capacity and two measures of reading comprehension were investigated. The magnitude of the correlations found between reading comprehension and the two spans embedded in reading processing tasks was similar to that of the correlation found between a third span measure embedded in a quantitative task with reading comprehension. These results indicated that these span measures of WM capacity were independent of the nature of the concurrent processing task.
The complex span measure of working memory is a word/digit span measured while performing a secondary task. Two experiments investigated whether correlations between the complex span and reading comprehension depend on the nature of the secondary task and individual skill in that task. The secondary task did not have to be reading related for the span to predict reading comprehension. An arithmetic-related secondary task led to correlations with reading comprehension similar to those found when the secondary task was reading. The relationship remained significant when quantitative skills were factored out of the complex span/comprehension correlations. Simple digit and word spans (measured without a background task) did not correlate with reading comprehension and SAT scores. The second experiment showed that the complex span/comprehension correlations were a function of the difficulty of the background task. When the difficulty level of the reading-related or arithmetic-related background tasks was moderate, the span/comprehension correlations were higher in magnitude than when the background tasks were very simple, or, were very difficult.
The term working memory refers to a brain system that provides temporary storage and manipulation of the information necessary for such complex cognitive tasks as language comprehension, learning, and reasoning. This definition has evolved from the concept of a unitary short-term memory system. Working memory has been found to require the simultaneous storage and processing of information. It can be divided into the following three subcomponents: (i) the central executive, which is assumed to be an attentional-controlling system, is important in skills such as chess playing and is particularly susceptible to the effects of Alzheimer's disease; and two slave systems, namely (ii) the visuospatial sketch pad, which manipulates visual images and (iii) the phonological loop, which stores and rehearses speech-based information and is necessary for the acquisition of both native and second-language vocabulary.
Results from a Monte Carlo study demonstrate how a non-recursive, a simple recursive, a modified recursive, and a hybrid outlier elimination procedure are influenced by population skew and sample size. All the procedures are based on computing a mean and a standard deviation from a sample in order to determine whether an observation is an outlier. Miller (1991) showed that the estimated mean produced by the simple non-recursive procedure can be affected by sample size and that this effect can produce a bias in certain kinds of experiments. We extended this result to the other three procedures. We also create two new procedures in which the criterion used to identify outliers is adjusted as a function of sample size so as to produce results that are unaffected by sample size.
( This reprinted article originally appeared in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1935, Vol 18, 643–662. The following abstract of the original article appeared in PA, Vol 10:1863.) In this study pairs of conflicting stimuli, both being inherent aspects of the same symbols, were presented simultaneously (a name of one color printed in the ink of another color—a word stimulus and a color stimulus). The difference in time for reading the words printed in colors and the same words printed in black is the measure of the interference of color stimuli on reading words. The difference in the time for naming the colors in which the words are printed and the same colors printed in squares is the measure of the interference of conflicting word stimuli on naming colors. The interference of conflicting color stimuli on the time for reading 100 words (each word naming a color unlike the ink-color of its print) caused an increase of 2.3 sec or 5.6% over the normal time for reading the same words printed in black. This increase is not reliable, but the interference of conflicting word stimuli on the time for naming 100 colors (each color being the print of a word which names another color) caused an increase of 47.0 sec or 74.3% of the normal time for naming colors printed in squares.… (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)