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Just Thinking About Stress In The Morning Could Lower Cognitive Capacity Throughout The Day

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Waking up on the wrong side of the bed, as the saying goes, could impact the way the brain functions throughout the day.

Researchers at Penn State University recruited 240 adult participants from diverse racial and economic backgrounds. Their goal is to determine how anticipated stress affects cognitive functions later in the day and how the results vary across different ages.

Details of the study are published in the Journals of Gerontology: Series B.

The Effect Of Stress On Cognitive Functions

Several studies in the past indicated that stress could significantly affect how a person can function socially and cognitively.

Recently, researchers at Penn State University noted feeling stressful or thinking about stress first thing in the morning could lower a person's information learning and retention capacity.

"Humans can think about and anticipate things before they happen, which can help us prepare for and even prevent certain events," said Jinshil Hyun, a doctoral student in human development and family studies.

"But this study suggests that this ability can also be harmful to your daily memory function, independent of whether the stressful events actually happen or not."

Reduced working memory affects the quality of life as individuals are more likely to commit mistakes such as in driving, which could be catastrophic for the person and his family. Stress can also have aggregated negative effects among older adults due to age-related cognitive decline.

The study bridges a major research gap since previously published literature did not fully address how anticipated stress affects everyday life.

Recording Stress On Smartphones

To record stress levels, participants answered seven questions a day for two weeks using a smartphone application. The first question prompted in the morning asking the participant if they expect their day to become stressful.

Five questions inquired about their stress levels throughout the day. The last one is sent at night to determine if the person expects the following day to become stressful.

"These findings suggest that anticipatory processes can produce harmful effects on cognitive functioning that are independent of everyday stress experiences. This may identify an important avenue to mitigate everyday cognitive lapses among older adults," the study authors concluded.

Martin Sliwinski, director of Penn State's Center for Healthy Aging, said that stress in the morning is felt throughout the day even if nothing stressful has happened. His team is conducting further studies on the use of wearable devices to analyze the effects of stress on a person's physiological being.

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