Nov 24, 2021
Under stress, people often react instinctively and without thinking twice – actions are almost automatic. Researchers at the Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors in Dortmund (IfADo) want to study in more detail what influence heart activity has on cognitive reaction. The research project “Effects of Stress on Conflict Processing: The Role of Cardioafferent Signals” will run for three years and is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).
The human body responds to potential threats with a complex stress reaction: Stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released into the bloodstream, blood pressure rises and the heart beats faster. That is not always advantageous, for example when cognitive control is required in traffic instead of impulsive action. These reactions can influence brain activity and thus experience and behaviour in stressful situations through various mechanisms. In previous studies, researchers at IfADo have already shown that different phases of cardiac activity affect the processing of conflict and threat stimuli.
In the new research project, the researchers now want to examine what role these changes in cardiac activity play in the influence of stress on cognitive processes. In a series of experiments, test subjects process different conflict paradigms, either under stress or under control conditions. At the same time, stress hormones and brain activity are measured using EEG. The special aspect is that in the tasks, the stimuli are presented in such a way that they adapt to the heartbeat. In this way, changes in the processing of cognitive conflicts can be observed as a function of heart activity and their significance in the stress event can be shown.