High-intensity stress elicits robust cortisol increases, and impairs working memory and visuo-spatial declarative memory in Special Forces candidates: A field experiment

John Taverniers, Joris Van Ruysseveldt, Tom Smeets, Jasper von Grumbkow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

While running a selection procedure, 27 male Belgian Special Forces candidates, with a mean age of 27.4 years (SD = 5.1), were randomly assigned to a no-stress control (n = 14) or a high-intensity stress group (n = 13). Participants in the latter group were exposed to an extremely strenuous mock prisoner of war (POW) exercise. Immediately after stress or control treatment, working memory and visuo-spatial declarative memory performances were measured by the digit span (DS) test and the Rey-Osterrieth complex figure (ROCF), respectively. Concurrently, stress levels were assessed by obtaining salivary cortisol measurements and subjectively by the NASA Task Load Index (TLX). As expected, exposure to high-intensity stress led to both robust cortisol increases and significant differences in TLX scores. Stress induction also significantly impaired DS and ROCF performances. Moreover, delta cortisol increases and ROCF performance in the POW stress group showed a significant negative correlation, while DS performances followed the same tendency. Summarizing, the current findings complement and extend previous work on hormonal stress effects, and the subsequent performance deterioration on two memory tests in a unique high-intensity stress environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-334
JournalStress-the International Journal on the Biology of Stress
Volume13
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

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