The Aftereffects of Stress: An Attentional Interpretation
journal contributionposted on 01.10.1978, 00:00 authored by Sheldon CohenSheldon 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.