Title

Examination of the effects of exposure to stress and stress-reactivity on selective attention performance

Date of Award

5-2006

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Advisor(s)

Martin J. Sliwinski

Keywords

Stress-reactivity, Selective attention

Subject Categories

Biological Psychology | Cognitive Psychology

Abstract

Psychological accounts of the stress-cognition link posit that the experience of stress will impair frontal lobe function. Pursuant to this claim, numerous studies have been conducted examining the effects of experimentally controlled stress on selective attention, a correlate of frontal lobe function. Previous research examining the effects of stress on frontal lobe function has focused largely on selective attention performance, and the results have been mixed. Some studies have stress-related impairments, while others have reported improvements, or even no effect. The present study was conducted to address methodological and procedural limitations of previous research examining the effects of stress on selective attention, using both experimental and individual differences approaches. This study was motivated by three questions: (1) Does the experience of an acute psychosocial stressor impair selective attention?; (2) What is/are the psychological mechanism(s) (e.g., increased anxiety, negative mood, cognitive interference) responsible for stress-related impairments of selective attention?; (3) Do individual differences in trait psychological distress and cognitive interference predict individual differences in selective attention? One hundred seventy-seven young adults completed three measures of selective attention before and after being randomly assigned to perform either a stressful (public speaking) or non-stressful (writing/describing pictures) task. Measures of cardiovascular function, anxiety, mood and cognitive interference were collected to verify the effectiveness of the manipulation, as well as identify potential mediators of stress effects on selective attention. Results revealed that (1) exposure to stress had no reliable effect on any measure of selective attention performance; (2) individual differences in stress-related psychological, cardiovascular, and cognitive reactivity were not reliably associated with selective attention performance; (3) individual differences in trait psychological distress and cognitive interference were not reliably associated with selective attention performance. Together these results indicate that neither exposure nor reactivity to stress had an impairing effect on selective attention performance.

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