Acute stress impairs cognitive flexibility in men, not women

Grant S. Shields, Brian C. Trainor, Jovian C W Lam, Andrew P. Yonelinas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Psychosocial stress influences cognitive abilities, such as long-term memory retrieval. However, less is known about the effects of stress on cognitive flexibility, which is mediated by different neurobiological circuits and could thus be regulated by different neuroendocrine pathways. In this study, we randomly assigned healthy adults to an acute stress induction or control condition and subsequently assessed participants’ cognitive flexibility using an open-source version of the Wisconsin Card Sort task. Drawing on work in rodents, we hypothesized that stress would have stronger impairing effects on cognitive flexibility in men than women. As predicted, we found that stress impaired cognitive flexibility in men but did not significantly affect women. Our results thus indicate that stress exerts sex-specific effects on cognitive flexibility in humans and add to the growing body of research highlighting the need to consider sex differences in effects of stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)542-546
Number of pages5
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2 2016


  • Cognitive flexibility
  • men
  • orbitofrontal cortex
  • sex differences
  • stress
  • Wisconsin card sorting test
  • women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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