Time-dependent effects of acute stress on working memory performance: A systematic review and hypothesis

Christoph F. Geißler*, Maximilian A. Friehs, Christian Frings, Gregor Domes*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Laboratory procedures such as the Trier Social Stress Test or the (Socially Evaluated) Cold Pressor Test have been used to investigate working memory performance under stress. Researchers so far have reported a diverse spectrum of stress effects (including the lack thereof) on working memory tasks. We conducted a systematic review of the effect acute stress on working memory performance in standardized laboratory procedures. An overview of the existing literature suggests that acute stress affects working memory in a time-dependent manner, presumably due to the differing time scales of the main stress-reactive hormones involved. Based on the empirical evidence, we hypothesize that the immediate stress-induced release of noradrenaline decreases working memory performance within the first 10 min post stress. In addition, rapid cortisol effects impair working memory at a later time-interval beginning about 25 min post stress. We outline future research directions which could further explore the implications of our insights, as for example combined pharmacological and naturalistic stressor interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105998
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Cortisol
  • Noradrenalin
  • Stress
  • Working memory
  • n/a OA procedure


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