Effects of Acute and Chronic Stress on Attention and Psychobiological Stress Reactivity in Women
Andreotti, Charissa Filker
The current study investigated the role of chronic stress in alterations in automatic attentional and stress reactivity processes that may affect vulnerability to mental and physical illness in women. Participants were randomized in a crossover design to complete both a mild laboratory social stress task and a computerized task assessing attentional bias to socially threatening words. A neuroendocrine marker of HPA activation (salivary cortisol) was measured continuously throughout the study. Results suggest attention as a gateway process integral in the perception and interpretation of environmental cues as stressful, subsequently influencing emotional and behavioral responses. While previous work has supported a role for chronic stress exposure in influencing acute biological stress reactivity, this work provides initial insight into how both prior chronic stress and current acute stress both concurrently influence the attentional gateway. Further, these attentional control processes are related to both cognitive and physiological stress reactivity systems shown to contribute to mental and physical health.