TitleStress and information processing: acute psychosocial stress affects levels of mental abstraction.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsFelt, JM, Depaoli, S, Tiemensma, J
JournalAnxiety Stress Coping
Date Published2021 01

BACKGROUND: One mechanism by which acute psychosocial stress effects health-related cognitions and behaviors is through changes in the level of mental abstraction when processing information. However, it is unclear whether levels of mental abstraction would be higher or lower after an acute psychosocial stressor.

OBJECTIVES: This research examined acute psychosocial stress's impact on levels of mental abstraction.

DESIGN: Randomized between-subjects experimental design.

METHODS: A diverse sample of 164 undergraduate students aged 18-24 years old were randomly assigned to an acute psychosocial stressor or non-stressful control condition. Blood pressure (BP), heart rate (HR), and negative affect were monitored throughout the study and mental abstraction was measured at the end of each condition.

RESULTS: Mental abstraction was statistically significantly higher (i.e., more abstract) after the stress condition than after the control condition ( = 0.005,  = 0.44). This association was partially explained by negative affect ( = 0.017), but not BP or HR ( > 0.60)

CONCLUSIONS: Acute psychosocial stress is associated with higher levels of mental abstraction after the stressor. These findings may have implications for stress-relevant interventions as accounting for the level of mental abstraction may enhance the efficacy of the intervention.

Alternate JournalAnxiety Stress Coping
PubMed ID33124472
PubMed Central IDPMC7770099
Grant ListT32 DA017629 / DA / NIDA NIH HHS / United States