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.

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Available from: K. Roelofs
    • "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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