Modulation of attentional inhibition by norepinephrine and cortisol after psychological stress.

Skosnik PD, Chatterton RT, Swisher T, Park S
Int J Psychophysiol. 2000 36 (1): 59-68

PMID: 10700623 · DOI:10.1016/s0167-8760(99)00100-2

Two of the most salient physiological responses to stress are increased norepinephrine (NE) and cortisol (CORT) activities. However, it is unclear how these neurochemical events affect cognition, especially attention. We examined the effects of mild psychological stress on selective attention, as assessed by the negative priming (NP) paradigm. Salivary measures of the stress hormone CORT and alpha-amylase (a correlate of NE) were assayed to probe the relationship between the stress response and attentional inhibition. Healthy subjects (N = 20) engaged in the attention task, which was then followed by 15 min of a stressful video game before a return to the attentional task. Baseline saliva samples were obtained before the experiment began, 1 min after the video-game stressor, and 20 min post-stress. Subjects showed a significant reduction in NP and a decrease in reaction time (RT) after the video game. Moreover, alpha-amylase levels increased significantly after the stressor, indicating the role of NE in the acute stress response. While CORT levels remained unchanged after stress, CORT correlated significantly with both NP scores and RT after the stressor. These results imply that mild psychological stress can significantly alter attentional processes. Given the increase in alpha-amylase and the correlation between attention and CORT after stress, it seems likely that attentional processes are under tight control by brain systems which mediate the fight-or-flight response.

MeSH Terms (14)

Adolescent Adult alpha-Amylases Attention Female Humans Hydrocortisone Male Norepinephrine Reaction Time Reference Values Saliva Stress, Psychological Video Games

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