Impact of Acute Stress on Attentional Orienting to Social Cues in Special Operations Personnel

  • Charles A. Morgan
  • Harlan M. FichtenholtzEmail author
  • Bartlett Russell
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 9183)


The goal of the present study was to characterize the effects of an acutely stressful situation on attentional orienting to social cues. Participants were tested before and during a highly stressful military training course. During the task, participants shown faces at fixation that concurrently displayed dynamic gaze shifts and expression changes from neutral to fearful or happy emotions. Military-relevant targets subsequently appeared in the periphery and were spatially congruent or incongruent with the gaze direction. Participants showed faster responses during fearful face trials during the high stress condition compared to baseline, while the response on happy face trials did not change. Additionally, enhanced performance was related to self-report reappraisal use during emotion regulation at baseline. Reaction times to threatening targets were faster on validly cued trials during both tests. Trials with safe targets showed no differences at baseline. These results suggest that acute stress plays a role in how individuals respond in the presence of a fearful cue, and during the evaluation of potentially threatening targets.


Facial affect Shared attention Stress 



Preparation of this manuscript was supported by the Clinical Neurosciences Division of VA National Center for PTSD. The opinions reflected in this study are not to be considered policy or guidance of the U.S. Government, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, or the Department of Defense, but reflect solely the opinions of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles A. Morgan
    • 1
  • Harlan M. Fichtenholtz
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Bartlett Russell
    • 4
  1. 1.Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic SciencesUniversity of New HavenWest HavenUSA
  2. 2.Department of Veterans AffairsNational Center for PTSDWest HavenUSA
  3. 3.Child Study CenterYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  4. 4.Department of KinesiologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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