Date of Award

Winter 12-18-2015

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Shawn Ell

Second Committee Member

Shannon McCoy

Third Committee Member

Alan Rosenwasser

Additional Committee Members

Thane Fremouw

Sebastien Hélie


Acute stress is commonly experienced by many throughout their lives. Given the demanding lifestyle of many career paths, it's important to gauge the influence of these stressors upon cognitive performance. The present dissertation focus' upon explicit learning in attempts to explore one avenue of the stress-cognition relationship. The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) was used as a lab stressor for Experiments 1 and 2, in which participants are asked to give a speech and complete a difficult math task in front of 2 evaluators trained to monitor non-verbal behavior. Experiment 1 investigates the dynamic stress response during the minutes following stress, and how changes in the physiological response influence cognitive task performance. Stress was measured cardiovascularly, hormonally and as a self-reported appraisal of the situation. Findings from Experiment 1 revealed a time point 55 min following stress in which participants' task performance was enhanced compared to a non-stressed comparison condition. These results suggest explicit task performance can be facilitated given a sufficient length of time following stress. Experiment 2 was designed in attempts to replicate the delayed RB task enhancement following the TSST, and given suggestions from the extant literature, explore if this task enhancement is attributed to enhanced working memory (WM). WM was assessed using an n-back task. Results confirmed the delayed RB task enhancement 55 min after stress, however no effect was present for n-back task performance. Experiment 3 was designed to understand if the RB task enhancement extended for a number of hours following stress. Additionally, cold-pressor stress was used to assess if the delayed task enhancement was stressor specific. In this task, participants were asked to submerge their hand in ice-water for up to 3 min. Results revealed a marginal task enhancement following a similar delay as Experiments 1 & 2, however the enhanced task performance did not remain hours later. Taken together the present experiments suggest a time frame following a delay from stress in which explicit learning and more specifically RB category learning is enhanced, however it doesn't seem as if this effect is due to the impact of stress on WM.