Writing About Past Failures Attenuates Cortisol Responses and Sustained Attention Deficits Following Psychosocial Stress.


Journal Article

Acute stress can harm performance. Paradoxically, writing about stressful events-such as past failures-has been shown to improve cognitive functioning and performance, especially in tasks that require sustained attention. Yet, there is little physiological evidence for whether writing about past failures or other negative events improves performance by reducing stress. In this experiment, we studied the effects of an acute psychosocial stressor, the Trier Social Stress Test, on attentional performance and salivary cortisol release in humans. Additionally, we investigated whether an expressive writing task could reduce the detrimental effects of stress, both on performance and physiological response. We found that when individuals were asked to write about a past failure before experiencing a stressor, they exhibited attenuated stress responses. Moreover, those who wrote about a past failure before being exposed to stress also exhibited better behavioral performance. Our results suggest that writing about a previous failure may allow an individual to experience a new stressor as less stressful, reducing its physiological and behavioral effects.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • DiMenichi, BC; Lempert, KM; Bejjani, C; Tricomi, E

Duke Contributors

Published Date

  • January 2018

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 12 /

Start / End Page

  • 45 -

PubMed ID

  • 29628878

Pubmed Central ID

  • 29628878

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1662-5153

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1662-5153

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00045


  • eng