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Title: The effects of acute psychosocial stress on the attentional networks
Author: Pugh, Stuart Michael
ISNI:       0000 0004 7972 1563
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2019
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Acute stress is a pervasive aspect of modern life that is often considered harmful to health and wellbeing. Whilst its potential to alter attention is also well reported (McEwen & Sapolsky, 1995), there is no consensus whether this change is advantageous or detrimental. This programme of work investigated the effects of acute psychosocial stress on aspects of attention that are frequently engaged in many different tasks; the attentional networks. Additionally, the programme examined whether the physiological transformations following acute stress directly influence any changes to attention. In a synthesis of these aims, novel experiments were designed to measure changes to the normal efficiency of three attentional networks, in two discrete periods following stress that broadly reflect the known physiological response: (1) the activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System (0-15 minutes), and (2) the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) Axis (20-35 minutes). Selfreport measures and biomarkers Alpha Amylase (SNS) and Cortisol (HPA-Axis) confirmed successful stress induction following a Socially Evaluative Cold Pressor Task. Behavioural data showed that whilst exposure to acute stress can lead to heightened levels of vigilance, it can also suppress practice effects impacting on executive control of attention. Moreover, these effects manifest differently depending on the time of day. When measured in the morning, the effects appear dependent on the time course of stress, with hypervigilance evident immediately following exposure, and practice suppressed in the delayed period. However, in the afternoon, such effects did not appear to be moderated by time-course and appeared irrespective of period. Alpha Amylase and Cortisol were further examined to understand whether elevated levels of the biomarkers predicted those changes to attention. Elevated SNS activity (Alpha Amylase) was related to heightened vigilance in the morning. However, in spite of its prominence across stress literature, Cortisol did not appear to share a relationship with any change to attentional efficiency.
Supervisor: Menneer, Tamaryn ; Donnelly, Nicholas ; Taunton, Dominic ; Garner, Matthew Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available