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The Aftereffects of Stress: An Attentional Interpretation

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journal contribution
posted on 01.10.1978, 00:00 by Sheldon Cohen, Shirlynn Spacapan
Two studies were conducted in order to test the hypothesis that the aftereffects of stress on both performance and social behavior are attributable to a depletion of attentional capacity. This depletion, or "cognitive fatigue", was predicted to increase with both the attentional load and duration of an activity. A laboratory study demonstrated that the aftereffects can be induced (without a stressor such as noise, crowding, or shock) by the performance of an attention-demanding task. Deficits on an aftereffects task increased as principal task demand and task duration increased. A second study, conducted in a field setting, found that after performing a high-load task, subjects were less likely to help a woman search for a contact lens than were their counterparts who performed a low-load task. Similarly, subjects who had been crowded were less likely to help than those who had not been crowded. The data are interpreted as providing support for the "cognitive-fatigue" explanation of the aftereffects of stress.