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Emotion. 2011 Aug;11(4):1000-5. doi: 10.1037/a0023224.

Choke or thrive? The relation between salivary cortisol and math performance depends on individual differences in working memory and math-anxiety.

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Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


In the current study, we explored how a person's physiological arousal relates to their performance in a challenging math situation as a function of individual differences in working memory (WM) capacity and math-anxiety. Participants completed demanding math problems before and after which salivary cortisol, an index of arousal, was measured. The performance of lower WM individuals did not depend on cortisol concentration or math-anxiety. For higher WM individuals high in math-anxiety, the higher their concentration of salivary cortisol following the math task, the worse their performance. In contrast, for higher WM individuals lower in math-anxiety, the higher their salivary cortisol concentrations, the better their performance. For individuals who have the capacity to perform at a high-level (higher WMs), whether physiological arousal will lead an individual to choke or thrive depends on math-anxiety.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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