The effects of acute stress on human prefrontal working memory systems

Anthony J. Porcelli, Daniel Cruz, Karen Wenberg, Michael D. Patterson, Bharat B. Biswal, Bart Rypma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


We examined the relationship between acute stress and prefrontal-cortex (PFC) based working memory (WM) systems using behavioral (Experiment 1) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI; Experiment 2) paradigms. Subjects performed a delayed-response item-recognition task, with alternating blocks of high and low WM demand trials. During scanning, participants performed this task under three stress conditions: cold stress (induced by cold-water hand-immersion), a room temperature water control (induced by tepid-water hand-immersion), and no-water control (no hand-immersion). Performance was affected by WM demand, but not stress. Cold stress elicited greater salivary cortisol readings in behavioral subjects, and greater PFC signal change in fMRI subjects, than control conditions. These results suggest that, under stress, increases in PFC activity may be necessary to mediate cognitive processes that maintain behavioral organization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)282-289
Number of pages8
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 20 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Amygdala
  • Cognition
  • Cold
  • Cortisol
  • PFC
  • Stress
  • Working memory


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