Enhanced performance on executive functions associated with examination stress: Evidence from task-switching and Stroop paradigms

Cognition and Emotion 20 (5):577-595 (2006)
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Abstract

Stressful life situations can impair or facilitate various cognitive functions. In the present study, the effect of examination stress on students was examined using two executive function tasks, task-switching and the Stroop task, in a between-subject crossover design. Students showed increased anxiety in the 2 week period prior to exams compared to the beginning of the semester, manifested as higher scores on the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Scale and a shift to more sympathetic activation when heart rate variability was assessed. During the stressful period, the switching cost was reduced on a spatial task-switching paradigm and reaction times in the Stroop task were faster. This is the first study to show stress-induced facilitation of performance on these executive function tasks.

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