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Salivary Bioscience News

Investigating acute stress and working memory in youth with salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase

Stress and working memory in children and adolescents: Insights from a multisystem approach

Tsai, et al., (2021) Journal of Experimental Child Psychology

ABSTRACT: Despite considerable research with adults suggesting that acute stress negatively affects working memory (WM), a core cognitive function, few studies have assessed these effects in youths. Studies that have been conducted have produced null findings, although these studies did not measure stress via multiple systems (e.g., hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal [HPA] axis and sympathetic nervous system [SNS]) or include wide developmental age ranges. In the current study, we examined the links between acute stress and WM in 8- to 15-year-olds. Youths completed the Trier Social Stress Test–Modified, during which repeated saliva samples were collected to measure responses of the HPA axis (cortisol) and SNS (salivary alpha-amylase). Immediately afterward, youths completed the n-back task, an established measure of WM. Accuracy and false alarm (FA) scores were computed to explore whether associations between arousal and WM differed when WM versus only the inhibitory control facet of WM processes were considered. Relations varied as a function of age, physiological system, and type of WM process. Accuracy improved and FA scores deceased as age and SNS reactivity increased, particularly in combination. Moreover, when arousal was higher according to only one physiological system (HPA axis or SNS), FA scores were lower, but when arousal was driven by both systems or low in both systems, FA scores were higher. Together, results highlight the need for more complex investigations of stress and WM across development that take into account system-specific responses and multiple facets of WM.

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Keywords: Salivary, acute stress, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, trier social stress test

*Note: Salimetrics provides this information for research use only (RUO). Information is not provided to promote off-label use of medical devices. Please consult the full-text article.

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