Cognitive benefit and cost of acute stress is differentially modulated by individual brain state

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2017 Jul 1;12(7):1179-1187. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsx043.


Acute stress is associated with beneficial as well as detrimental effects on cognition in different individuals. However, it is not yet known how stress can have such opposing effects. Stroop-like tasks typically show this dissociation: stress diminishes speed, but improves accuracy. We investigated accuracy and speed during a stroop-like task of 120 healthy male subjects after an experimental stress induction or control condition in a randomized, counter-balanced cross-over design; we assessed brain-behavior associations and determined the influence of individual brain connectivity patterns on these associations, which may moderate the effect and help identify stress resilience factors. In the mean, stress was associated to increase in accuracy, but decrease in speed. Accuracy was associated to brain activation in a distributed set of brain regions overlapping with the executive control network (ECN) and speed to temporo-parietal activation. In line with a stress-related large-scale network reconfiguration, individuals showing an upregulation of the salience and down-regulation of the executive-control network under stress displayed increased speed, but decreased performance. In contrast, individuals who upregulate their ECN under stress show improved performance. Our results indicate that the individual large-scale brain network balance under acute stress moderates cognitive consequences of threat.

Keywords: brain state; executive control; functional connectivity; salience; stress.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnostic imaging*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Young Adult