In the present experiment, cognitive control under stress was investigated using a real-life paradigm, namely an evaluation flight for military student pilots. The magnitude of cognitive interference on color-word, numerical and emotional Stroop paradigms was studied during a baseline recording and right before the test flight. Cardio-respiratory parameters were simultaneously assessed during rest and the performance of the Stroop tasks. Cognitive data suggested a different speed/accuracy trade-off under stress, and no modulation of the interference effect for color words or numerical stimuli. However, we observed a major increase in error rates for specific emotional stimuli related to the evaluation situation in the stress condition. The increase in cognitive interference from emotional stimuli, expressed as an increase in error rates, was correlated to the decreased cardiac reactivity to challenge in the stress situation. This relationship is discussed in the framework of Sanders' (1983) model of stress and performance. In terms of future research, this link warrants a fruitful lead to be followed for investigating the causal mechanism of performance decrements under the influence of stress.
Keywords: Cardiac reactivity; Performance; Stress; Stroop.
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