Self-awareness protects working memory in people under chronic stress: An ERP study

Frontiers in Psychology 13 (2022)
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Chronic stress impairs working memory, but few studies have explored the protective factors of the impairment. We aimed to investigate the effect of self-awareness on WM processing in people under chronic stress. Participants under chronic stress completed an n-back task after a self-awareness priming paradigm during which electroencephalograms were recorded. The behavioral results showed that participants whose self-awareness was primed reacted faster and more accurately than the controls. Event-related potentials revealed the following P2 was more positive in the self-awareness group than in the controls, indicating that self-awareness enhanced allocation of attention resources at the encoding stage. N2 was attenuated in the self-awareness group compared with the controls, indicating that smaller attention control efforts were required to complete WM tasks adequately after self-awareness priming; and enhanced late positive potential was evoked in the self-awareness group compared with the controls, suggesting self-awareness enabled participants to focus attention resources on the information at the maintenance stage. Critically, mediational analyses showed that LPP mediated the relationship between self-awareness and WM response times. This result suggests that the fact that participants whose self-awareness was primed were able to achieve better behavioral performances may be attributed to their mobilization of sustained attention resources at the maintenance stage. In summary, self-awareness exerted a protective effect on WM in those under chronic stress, which may be due to the enhancements in the allocation and mobilization of attention. These results could be used to develop more specific coping strategies for people under chronic stress.



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