Belmont University Research Symposium (BURS)

Cool Off The Stress: Effect of Acute Stress on Cognitive Functioning Through Cortisol Levels & ELS

Publication Date



Sciences and Mathematics, College of


Psychological Science, Department of

BURS Faculty Advisor

Dr. Timothy Schoenfeld

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation


In previous studies, early life stress (ELS) has been associated with a wide range of adverse influences on behavioral and psychological development. Among youth who were exposed to ELS, studies have correlated stronger cortisol reactivity due to acute stress than controls (Kuhlman, 2021). Aside from the developmental risks of ELS, additional studies reveal negative consequences on cognitive processes related to executive functioning (Saleh, 2017). As previous findings seem to primarily focus on brain or neurological changes in subjects with ELS experience, there appears to be a critical need to examine further long-term impacts and influences on cognitive executive functioning focusing on ELS, as a stress-promoting life experience, influencing a future heightened cortisol response to acute stressors. The current study aims to see if there is an interaction between ELS and high cortisol levels after the body is acutely stressed, as well as an interaction with executive processing abilities. Participants in this study performed the Stroop Task, as the cognitive measure, and responded to an ELS questionnaire following an acute stressor, the Cold Pressor Task. Baseline cortisol levels were taken before the Cold Pressor Task and once more following the Stroop Task and ELS questionnaire. It is expected that those who report higher ELS scores will present an increased level of cortisol following the acute stressor. Therefore, it is also expected that those who report higher ELS scores will also show a decrease in cognitive performance.

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