Off-campus SJSU users: To download campus access theses, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your SJSU library user name and PIN.

Publication Date

Fall 2012

Degree Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Cheryl Chancellor-Freeland


Attention, Cortisol, Executive control, Multiple Object Tracking (MOT), Stress, Trier Social Stress Test (TSST)

Subject Areas

Experimental psychology; Neurosciences; Cognitive psychology


Several reports have indicated that some motor vehicle accidents may be due to stress (Su, Tran, Wirtz, Langteau, & Rothman, 2009), which could have caused the driver's impairment in tracking several events or objects simultaneously. Multiple object tracking (MOT) requires attentional or executive controls (Scholl, 2009), which involve the prefrontal cortex activity (Shimamura, 2000). The cognitive functions related to this brain area may be vulnerable to a stress hormone, cortisol (Kern et al., 2008). In this research project, with 76 healthy students from an ethnically diverse university, 49 participants underwent the two blocks of MOT trials prior to and following exposure to a psychosocial stressor, the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST; Kirschbaum, Pirke, & Hellhammer, 1993). The change in MOT performance between the pre and poststress (practice effect) was used as the performance outcome, and salivary cortisol levels were measured to assess cortisol reactivity. The remaining 27 participants served as a control group, and were not exposed to the stressor in between MOT trials. Analyses of cortisol reactivity to the stressor revealed that following a stress induction, low- and high-cortisol responder groups showed a significantly impaired MOT performance relative to the improved performance that would be expected with practice. This suggests that acute psychosocial stress modified cortisol levels, and the altered cortisol levels may have impacted attentional control. The practical implication is that psychosocial stress could be one of the potential causes for motor accidents among inexperienced or young vehicle drivers (i.e., college students), following stressful events such as job interviews and exams.