Acute Stress Shapes Creative Cognition in Trait Anxiety

Frontiers in Psychology 10 (2019)
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Abstract

This study examined the cognitive mechanism underlying acute stress in creative cognition among individuals with high and low trait anxiety. Specifically, cognitive inhibition was assessed using the flanker task during acute stress. Fifty-two participants (26 high trait anxiety, 26 low trait anxiety) (mean age = 18.94 years) underwent stress induction via the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). They all completed the Alternative Uses Test (AUT) and the Remote Associates Test (RAT) before and after the TSST. Biochemical markers (salivary cortisol and salivary alpha amylase) were recorded at regular intervals. The results showed that cognitive inhibition was influenced by trait anxiety and acute stress. Compared to before experiencing acute stress, there was a lack of cognitive inhibition in low trait anxious individuals and they performed better in AUT (fluency) after acute stress, whereas high trait anxious individuals showed a decreased interference effect and reduced performance in AUT (fluency, flexibility, and originality). In the RAT, there were shorter response times and increased accuracy after acute stress in both high and low trait anxiety groups. Thus, we suggest that cognitive control, which modulates changes in acute stress, influences creative cognition. These findings provide evidence that inhibition control mediates the effect of stress on the creativity of individuals with different trait anxiety.

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