Individual Differences in Stress Response and Working Memory

  • Matthews G
  • Campbell S
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Understanding how stress and performance are reciprocally linked may contribute to alleviating operator stress. A study of individual differences in stress and working memory is reported. 112 participants performed a demanding working memory task on four occasions. Subjective stress state was assessed with the Dundee Stress State Questionnaire (DSSQ: Matthews et al., 1998). The task elicited changes in subjective state that included increased distress, although the magnitude of subjective stress responses tended to decrease over time. Working memory tasks may be intrinsically stressful, although operators are able to adapt to task demands to some extent. Several DSSQ scales correlated with performance on the task. Control and confidence was associated with a general facilitation of performance on all four days of testing. Energetic arousal also tended to facilitate performance, but the effect was contingent on task parameters, consistent with attentional resource theory. The data indicate which dimensions of stress should be targeted for intervention in real-world applications.




Matthews, G., & Campbell, S. E. (1999). Individual Differences in Stress Response and Working Memory. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, 43(11), 634–638.

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