Acute stress reduces the emotional attentional blink: Evidence from human electrophysiology

Abstract

The present study is the first to examine the time-dependent mechanism of acute stress on emotional attentional blink (EAB) with event-related potential (ERP) measures. We explored the stage characteristics of stress affecting EAB, whether it affects the early selective attention process (marked by early posterior negativity) or the late working memory consolidation (marked by late positive potential). Sixty-one healthy participants were exposed to either a Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) or a control condition, and salivary cortisol was measured to reflect the stress effect. ERPs were recorded during an attentional blink (AB) paradigm in which target one (T1) were negative or neutral images. Results showed stress generally reduced AB effects. Specifically, stress promoted the early selective attention process of target two (T2) following a neutral T1 but did not affect T2 consolidation into working memory. Correlational analyses further confirmed the positive effect of cortisol and negative emotional state on AB performance. Moreover, the ERP results of acute stress on AB conformed to the trade-off effect between T1 and T2; that is, stress reduced T1 late working memory consolidation and improved T2 early selective attention process. These findings further demonstrated that stress did not change the central resource limitation of AB. In general, stress generates a dissociable effect on AB early- and late-stage processing; namely, acute stress reduce the AB effect mainly from the improvement of participants’ overall ability to select the targets in the early stage.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China grant (32071078), Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (GK201902011, 2019TS140, 2019TS132), Key project for Collaborative Innovation Center of Assessment Towards Basic Education Quality at Beijing Normal University (2018-05-009-BZPK01, 2020-05-009-BZPK01), and Learning Science Interdisciplinary project of Shaanxi Normal University.

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None of the data or materials for the experiments reported here is available, and none of the experiments was preregistered.

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Correspondence to Jijun Lan or Haijun Duan.

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Kan, Y., Wang, X., Chen, X. et al. Acute stress reduces the emotional attentional blink: Evidence from human electrophysiology. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci (2020). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-020-00847-9

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Keywords

  • Acute stress
  • Emotional attentional blink
  • Cortisol
  • Event-related potential