Researchers interested in the neurobiology of the acute stress response in humans require a valid and reliable acute stressor that can be used under experimental conditions. The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) provides such a testing platform. It induces stress by requiring participants to make an interview-style presentation, followed by a surprise mental arithmetic test, in front of an interview panel who do not provide feedback or encouragement. In this review, we outline the methodology of the TSST, and discuss key findings under conditions of health and stress-related disorder. The TSST has unveiled differences in males and females, as well as different age groups, in their neurobiological response to acute stress. The TSST has also deepened our understanding of how genotype may moderate the cognitive neurobiology of acute stress, and exciting new inroads have been made in understanding epigenetic contributions to the biological regulation of the acute stress response using the TSST. A number of innovative adaptations have been developed which allow for the TSST to be used in group settings, with children, in combination with brain imaging, and with virtual committees. Future applications may incorporate the emerging links between the gut microbiome and the stress response. Future research should also maximise use of behavioural data generated by the TSST. Alternative acute stress paradigms may have utility over the TSST in certain situations, such as those that require repeat testing. Nonetheless, we expect that the TSST remains the gold standard for examining the cognitive neurobiology of acute stress in humans.
Keywords: Cognition; Epigenetics; Genotype; HPA axis; Stress.