Cortisol, stress, and attentional bias toward threat
Attentional bias toward threatening stimuli is a central characteristic of anxiety and acute stress. Recent small-scale studies have provided divergent perspectives on the association between the stress hormone cortisol and attentional bias toward threat cues. In a larger sample size than previous studies, we examined this association by investigating the impact of cortisol on attentional bias in two studies using a psychological stressor (N=35) and a physical stressor (N=65), respectively. Attentional bias and salivary cortisol were measured prior to and following the administration of a stressful task designed to increase cortisol levels. Results across these studies were equivocal relative to the association between baseline cortisol and baseline attentional bias. In addition, the association between acute change in cortisol and change in attentional bias appeared to differ as a function of the presence or absence of psychological stress. There was a trend toward a stronger negative association between acute cortisol change and attentional bias change among women relative to men. These results imply that the association between cortisol and attentional bias may be moderated by additional factors, such as gender or presence of stress.
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