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Acute Stress Improves Concentration Performance


Degroote, Cathy; Schwaninger, Adrian; Heimgartner, Nadja; Hedinger, Patrik; Ehlert, Ulrike; Wirtz, Petra H (2020). Acute Stress Improves Concentration Performance. Experimental Psychology, 67(2):88-98.

Abstract

Acute stress can have both detrimental and beneficial effects on cognitive processing, but effects on concentration performance remain unclear. Here, we investigate the effects of acute psychosocial stress on concentration performance and possible underlying physiological and psychological mechanisms. The study sample comprised 47 healthy male participants who were randomly assigned either to a psychosocial stress situation (Trier Social Stress Test) or a neutral control task. Concentration performance was assessed using the d2 Test of Attention before and 30 min after the stress or control task. Salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase were repeatedly measured before and up to 1 hr after stress. We repeatedly assessed state anxiety using the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory and anticipatory cognitive stress appraisal using the Primary Appraisal Secondary Appraisal questionnaire. The stress group showed a significantly stronger improvement of concentration performance compared to the control group (p = .042). Concentration performance improvement was predicted by increased state anxiety (p = .020) and lower cortisol (stress) changes (p = .043). Neither changes in alpha-amylase nor cognitive stress appraisal did relate to concentration performance. Our results show improved concentration performance after acute psychosocial stress induction that was predicted by higher state anxiety increases and lower cortisol increases. This points to a potential modulating role of specific psycho-emotional and physiological factors with opposite effects.

Abstract

Acute stress can have both detrimental and beneficial effects on cognitive processing, but effects on concentration performance remain unclear. Here, we investigate the effects of acute psychosocial stress on concentration performance and possible underlying physiological and psychological mechanisms. The study sample comprised 47 healthy male participants who were randomly assigned either to a psychosocial stress situation (Trier Social Stress Test) or a neutral control task. Concentration performance was assessed using the d2 Test of Attention before and 30 min after the stress or control task. Salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase were repeatedly measured before and up to 1 hr after stress. We repeatedly assessed state anxiety using the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory and anticipatory cognitive stress appraisal using the Primary Appraisal Secondary Appraisal questionnaire. The stress group showed a significantly stronger improvement of concentration performance compared to the control group (p = .042). Concentration performance improvement was predicted by increased state anxiety (p = .020) and lower cortisol (stress) changes (p = .043). Neither changes in alpha-amylase nor cognitive stress appraisal did relate to concentration performance. Our results show improved concentration performance after acute psychosocial stress induction that was predicted by higher state anxiety increases and lower cortisol increases. This points to a potential modulating role of specific psycho-emotional and physiological factors with opposite effects.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
Social Sciences & Humanities > Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
Social Sciences & Humanities > General Psychology
Language:English
Date:March 2020
Deposited On:11 Aug 2020 11:09
Last Modified:12 Aug 2020 20:00
Publisher:Hogrefe & Huber
ISSN:1618-3169
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1027/1618-3169/a000481
PubMed ID:32729405

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