ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2020, Vol. 28 ›› Issue (9): 1508-1524.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2020.01508

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The influence of acute stress on working memory: Physiological and psychological mechanisms

LI Wanru1, KU Yixuan2()   

  1. 1School of Psychology and Cognitive Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200062, China
    2Department of Psychology, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510006, China
  • Received:2019-10-31 Online:2020-09-15 Published:2020-07-24
  • Contact: KU Yixuan


Acute stress is a series of physiological and psychological reaction that could help people adjust homeostasis, when their body facing changes and challenges in the external environment. Acute stress has a profound impact on cognitive processing, especially the core function working memory. However, inconsistent behavioral influence by acute stress exists in a plethora of previous studies. We therefore review the empirical results, and systematically summarize the findings. From three perspectives, methods to induce stress, working memory tasks/sub-components, and subjects’ individual differences, we can better explain the physiological and psychological mechanisms underlying the influence of acute stress on working memory. We proposed that the influence could be better understood from views of cognitive neural mechanisms. Future studies should jointly consider these extensive factors of stress and translate findings from basic research into intervention and regulation of negative effects of acute stress.

Key words: acute stress, working memory, prefrontal cortex, sympathetic nervous system, hypothalamic- pituitary-adrenal axis

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