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Publication Date

Fall 2017

Degree Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Cheryl Chancellor-Freeland


attention, cortisol, fatigue, MOT, multiple object tracking, stress

Subject Areas



Several studies have reported that acute psychological stress and the cortisol secretory episode caused by the stress response relate to impairments in cognitive tasks that are not hippocampal dependent. Most studies focused on cognitive tasks that are associated with the frontal cortex, but few have assessed the effects of acute stress in cognitive function primarily associated with the parietal cortex. The parietal cortex is different from the frontal cortex in cortisol receptor distribution. Multiple object tracking (MOT) is a computer task primarily associated with the parietal cortex that assesses visual attention, and we employed it to assess the relation between stress, cortisol, and visual attention. We used MOT to assess changes in task performance after acute stress. Eighty participants completed one block of MOT and then immediately performed a laboratory stressor task or neutral control task. After the stressor or control task, participants completed a second block of MOT. Mood scores were taken, and salivary cortisol samples were collected after each block of MOT. We did not observe impaired attention as a result of stress or cortisol elevation after the stressor. While anger, confusion, depression, and tension differed between control and stress groups, only one dimension of negative affect, emotional fatigue, was related to MOT performance. Together, our results imply the negative affect caused by an acute stressor can affect non-hippocampal cognitive function equally or more than the cortisol elevation or other biomarkers associated with the stress response.