The effect of acute stress on subsequent neuropsychological test performance (2003)

Richard Hoffman, Mustafa N al'Absi

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69 Scopus citations


Acute mental stressors have been implicated as variables that may deleteriously affect neuropsychological test performance by increasing distractibility and decreasing working memory function. This study examined 25 subjects with no known neurological or psychiatric impairment on a brief battery of neuropsychological measures on alternate days following either rest or induced mental stress in a counterbalanced design. The test battery consisted of the Rey Auditory-Verbal Learning Test, the Rey Complex Figure, and three Wechsler Memory Scale-III subtests (Logical Memory, Digit Span, and Visual Memory Span). The Ss average age was 24.8 years (S.D.=10.1) and average education was 15.0 years (S.D.=1.6). The mental stressor employed was a videotaped public-speaking exercise that has been shown in previous work to induce negative mood, cardiovascular reactivity, and perceived mental stress. Ss demonstrated statistically significant (P<.05) increases in negative mood, heart rate, diastolic blood pressure, and systolic blood pressure as well as elevated cortisol concentration following induced stress, suggesting substantially increased adrenocortical reactivity and cardiovascular stress response. There were, however, no statistically significant differences in any of the neuropsychological measures when stress versus rest days were compared. The results suggest that acute mental stressors may have no measurable effect on subsequent performance on selected neuropsychological tests in a normal population. Further work is suggested to determine whether pre-existing anxiety-related psychopathology or pre-existing neurological compromise might interact with induced mental stress to cause decrements in neuropsychological test performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)497-506
Number of pages10
JournalArchives of Clinical Neuropsychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2004


  • Attention
  • Cardiovascular
  • Cortisol
  • Memory
  • Neuropsychology


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