Intention retrieval and deactivation following an acute psychosocial stressor

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We often form intentions but have to postpone them until the appropriate situation for retrieval and execution has come, an ability also referred to as event-based prospective memory. After intention completion, our cognitive system has to deactivate no-more-relevant intention representations from memory to avoid interference with subsequent tasks. In everyday life, we frequently rely on these abilities also in stressful situations. Surprisingly, little is known about potential stress effects on these functions. Therefore, the present study aimed to examine the reliability of event-based prospective memory and of intention deactivation in conditions of acute psychosocial stress. To this aim, eighty-two participants underwent the Trier Social Stress Test, a standardized stress protocol, or a standardized control situation. Following this treatment, participants performed a computerized event-based prospective memory task with non-salient and focal prospective memory cues in order to assess prospective memory performance and deactivation of completed intentions. Although the stress group showed elevated levels of salivary cortisol as marker of a stress-related increase in hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis activity throughout the cognitive testing period compared to the no-stress group, prospective memory performance and deactivation of completed intentions did not differ between groups. Findings indicate that cognitive control processes subserving intention retrieval and deactivation after completion may be mostly preserved even under conditions of acute stress. © 2013 Walser et al.




Walser, M., Fischer, R., Goschke, T., Kirschbaum, C., & Plessow, F. (2013). Intention retrieval and deactivation following an acute psychosocial stressor. PLoS ONE, 8(12).

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