OBJECTIVES: Spatial learning is shown to be influenced by acute stress in both human and other animals. However, the intricacies of this relationship are unclear. Based on prior findings we hypothesized that compared to a control condition, a social stress condition would not affect spatial learning performance despite elevated biochemical markers of stress.
METHODS: The present study tested the effects of social stress in human males and females on a subsequent spatial learning task. Social stress induction consisted of evaluative stress (the Trier Social Stress Test, TSST) compared to a placebo social stress.
RESULTS: Compared to the placebo condition, the TSST resulted in significantly elevated cortisol and alpha amylase levels at multiple time points following stress induction. In accord, cognitive appraisal measures also showed that participants in the TSST group experienced greater perceived stress compared to the placebo group. However, there were no group differences in performance on a spatial learning task.
CONCLUSION: Our findings suggest that unlike physiological stress, social stress does not result in alterations in spatial learning in humans. It is possible that moderate social evaluative stress in humans works to prevent acute stress-mediated alterations in hippocampal learning processes..