Is There a Link between Stress and Cognition, and Capacity to Execute Motor Skill?

Benjamin G. Serpell, Gordon Waddington, Braden McGrath, Christian J. Cook

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose This study aimed to examine the link between stress (measured via salivary cortisol and testosterone), cognition (measured via pupillometry, with greater pupil constriction and reduced pupil constriction latency associated with increased attention and improved information processing), and motor skill capacity (measured via somatosensory processing). Methods Twenty-five professional rugby players participated in this study. Saliva samples were collected upon waking, before pupillometry and somatosensory processing testing, and after testing. Testing times varied for participants; however, it was always in the morning, and the order of testing was randomized. Results Very small differences in hormone concentrations were seen across the morning (effect size = 0.01). Moderate to large differences in left eye pupil constriction for direct (left eye) versus consensual (right eye) stimulus were also seen (P < 0.01; effect size = 0.51 to 1.04). No differences for pupil constriction latency were seen for direct versus consensual stimulus. Some positive weak to moderate relationships were seen for testosterone and pupil constriction latency (r = 0.37 to 0.39, P < 0.05). Moderate to strong inverse relationships were seen for hormones with left eye pupil constriction difference between direct and consensual stimulus, and for pre- to posttest testosterone-to-cortisol ratio decline with left eye pupil constriction for direct and consensual stimulus (r = 0.41 to 0.52, P < 0.05). Weak to moderate inverse relationships for testosterone-to-cortisol ratio decline and somatosensory processing were seen (r = 0.36 to 0.47, P < 0.05). Conclusion Stress may affect ability to receive information and ability to execute motor tasks. Thus, stress may compromise ability to make appropriate objective decisions and consequently execute skill/task behavior. Strategies to help mitigate negative stress responses are noted.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2365-2372
    Number of pages8
    JournalMedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise
    Issue number11
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


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