Shifting attention from one task to another is more difficult for men under stress than for men who aren’t, according to recent research by scientists from Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology, The Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell Medical College. Studies on rats that had similar results led to this research. Stress appeared to diminish the ability to shift from one task to another and decrease the functioning of the medial prefrontal cortex. The effects of stress, though, appeared to be reversed within one month.
In the study, male medical students under stress from preparing for the board finals were compared with similar non-stressed group, both groups who had reported their stress levels beforehand on a standardized perceived-stress scale. The men underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while being tested for responsiveness to task changes, a change of focus, or response-reversal. The group under stress did much more poorly on changing focus, but not on response-reversal.
Previous studies on rats found that different parts of the brain were involved in focus change and response-reversal. The orbital frontal cortex appeared to grow in response to stress, thought to be associated with response-reversal, whereas nerve cells of the medial prefrontal cortex, thought to be associated with focus change actually shriveled. It seems the same changes occur in human males.
Leader of the study, Conor Liston, an M.D.-Ph.D. Student at Rockefeller and Cornell, says, “Stress is doing a whole lot of things in your brain that we don’t understand yet, but we know that it is intimately involved in a wide range of neuropsychiatric disorders.” He hopes to research this in women too, and suggests that such research may be helpful in stress-related psychiatric conditions.
© Copyright 2009 by Jolyn Wells-Moran, PhD, MSW, therapist in Seattle, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.