Article

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

ABSTRACT

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.

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    • "However, the following neuropsychological tests did not result in working memory improvements. On the other hand, a study by Elzinga and Roelofs (2005), using a psychological stress protocol, did show a link between stress-induced cortisol increases and working memory performance. They divided participants into cortisol responders and nonresponders , after a psychological stress phase, and found working memory impairments during the psychosocial stress phase but only for the cortisol responders. "

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    • "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. "
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    • "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. "
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    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.
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