Cortisol administration acutely reduces threat-selective spatial attention in healthy young men

Physiol Behav. 2010 Mar 3;99(3):294-300. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2009.11.006. Epub 2009 Nov 24.


There is mounting evidence that single administrations of glucocorticoids may acutely reduce human fear. We previously reported that administration of cortisol acutely reduced non-spatial selective attention to fearful faces and likewise reduced preferential processing of fearful faces in a spatial working memory task. Here we report the acute effects of 40 mg cortisol (administered in a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover design) on a different experimental task for measuring threat-selective attention. Twenty healthy young males had to localize a target which was presented in a peripheral location that was either gazed at or not by a preceding dynamic happy or fearful face. This reliable method has been used repeatedly to demonstrate fear-driven selective attention. Present results showed that after placebo, as usual, the fearful gaze cues caused stronger orienting of attention than happy faces. Cortisol abolished this typical anxious response pattern, but only in low anxious participants. These data provide evidence that cortisol acutely influences also spatial threat-selective attention. Possible neuroendocrine mechanisms are discussed.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety / metabolism
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Attention / drug effects*
  • Fear / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Hydrocortisone / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Space Perception / drug effects
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone