Literature used a sample of 54 undergraduate

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Literature Review

            Several researchers have investigated the relationship
between stress and executive functioning. Executive functioning is often
measured in experiments by attention and memory recall performance. The
hypothesis that stress negatively affects the executive functioning of college
aged individuals has been heavily investigated.

 In a study using a between-subject design,
Kofman, Meiran, Greenberg, Balas, and Cohen (2006) gathered 47 undergraduate
students between the ages 18-29. The researchers examined the effects of
examination stress on two executive function tasks in these students. They
found that in the 2 weeks prior to the exam students experienced increased
anxiety levels. Kofman et al. (2006) also found a significant interaction for
stress and reaction time(RT) performance in task switching. These results
suggested that when the students were under stress their task switching
performances had the slowest RTs. The researchers also conducted Stroop testing
as an executive functioning task and found that there were no significant
findings for the Stroop testing. Students under stress during the Stroop
testing had faster RTs but increased errors for incongruent stimuli. Similarly, researchers Petrac, Bedwell, Renk,
Orem and Sims (2009) used a sample of 54 undergraduate students to examine the
relationship between perceived environmental stress and executive functioning
performance. They were interested in
how self-reported environmental stress would affect divided attention
performance. The results indicated that when the 54 participants reported an
increase in environmental stress there was a decrease in divided attention
performance. The researchers also controlled for anxiety and found a
statistically significant positive correlation between perceived stress and the
auditory omission errors from the dual condition. The findings suggest that
students’ perceived stress negatively affected the students’ ability to
accurately perform in both tasks.

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contrast to the relationship between stress and executive functioning seen in
the previous studies, Trammell and Clore (2014) hypothesized that
“stress-induced arousal enhances long-term memory for experiences
associated with arousing events”. They conducted three experiments to test
their hypothesis. In each experimental group Trammell and Clore used
undergraduate students whose mean age ranged from 18.47 and 18.97. The
immersion technique of placing participants’ arms into ice water was used as a
stressor. The researchers introduced multiple forms of stimuli and varied the
time frames for participants being introduced to the stressor. However, their
findings still aligned with the studies discussed earlier. They found that in
every experiment induced stressors interfered with long term memory. Again,
suggesting that stress has a negative effect on executive functioning. 

many studies suggested stress has a negative effect on executive functioning
some researchers have hypothesized that stress enhances cognitive functioning,
and thus, conducted experiments to test that theory. Among these researchers
were Chajut and Algom in 2003. They gathered 160 undergraduate, freshman.
psychology students for their study. The students were between 20 and 25 years
old. Chaut and Algom randomly placed the participants into two groups based on
stress levels and conducted a series of tests. Multiple factors were used to
induced stress, such as, task difficulty, time pressure, and threat to the ego.
The results indicated that the main effect of stress was highly significant in
multiple experiments. In experimental tasks involving colors and words
participants performed better under high stress levels. These findings were
contradictory to the results found in the previous studies and opposed the ironic process theory, which says that
stress will inhibit cognitive functioning.

addition to Chajut and Algom’s experiment, more recently in 2014, researchers
Gathmann, Schulte, Maderwald, Pawlikowski, Starcke, Schäfer, and Brand explored
the correlation between decision making and stress. During their experiment
stress was defined by the Trier Social Stress Test and they used a parallel working memory task. The
results indicated that while there was an increase in neural activity for participants
in the higher stress group there was no significant difference in performance
of tasks. They found that acute stress with a parallel executive
functioning task does not impair decision-making performance. According to
Gathmann et al. acute stress helps the brain switch from serial to parallel processing.

Overall, research has repeatedly
indicated that a relationship is present between stress and cognitive
functioning. Unfortunately, there are several concerns with the literature. These
concerns include, conflicting or opposing outcomes, and an insignificant amount
of current (within a decade) literature.

The findings over the years
have been contradicting. As seen above, some studies suggested that stress
increased cognitive functioning while others suggested a decrease in cognitive
functioning. Many researchers noted that the relationship may vary depending on
how much stress is present. This creates major reliability and validity

and stressors, like college students are not static. Things that collegiate
level scholars deem very stressful one yeat, may not be deemed so stressful in
subsequent years. Thus, major gaps in literature and research pose significant
challenges.  It was extremely difficult
to find multiple articles that look at both variables with in the last 10
years. Many articles from the last few years (5 years old or less) did focus on
executive functioning but in relation to more severe forms of stress, such as
PTSD or mental disorders. These types of stressors present a new set of
variables to account for. Additionally, much of the research that did look at
both variables did not focus on the collegiate population. It is important to
have studies relating to the population being investigated. The studies with
other age ranges make it difficult to accurately access the relationship and
causation for college students, as age is another confounding variable.
Finally, there were several studies looking at non-human subjects (rats). While
these studies can guide the design of future studies they cannot accurately
represent the college-age, human population, thus, the findings may not be
effective in implementing ways to effectively utilize the data or outcome from
those studies. 

Categories: Decision Making


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