“Stressed Out and Struggling to Concentrate: The Relationship Between Cortisol Reactivity and Cognitive Control in College Students”
My name is Katiasofia Gonzales, and I am a senior Cognitive Neuroscience major. For my I.S., I decided to focus my research on the relationship between stress and cognition in my project, “Stressed Out and Struggling to Concentrate: The Relationship Between Cortisol Reactivity and Cognitive Control in College Students.”
As the title implies, I wanted to focus on the college experience because, as we all know anecdotally, it is extremely stressful. But how exactly does that stress affect our ability to learn and thrive in a highly demanding academic environment? What exactly is happening in the brain as we struggle to learn in the middle of the chaos?
To answer these questions, I decided to focus on a particularly stressed population: first-year students, and, in contrast, a slightly less stressed population: sophomores. I asked students from both groups to come to my lab in order to complete a series of questionnaires, a computer cognitive test and provide a saliva sample. The saliva was used to measure the stress hormone cortisol to better understand their overall stress levels. During the computer test, I monitored brain activity through EEG.
While I wasn’t able to find much significance due to my very small sample size, the brain activity recordings and statistical analysis hinted that the experiment design could work with a larger population, which was very encouraging. Perhaps, in the future, other students with similar questions will be able to use my research as a guide for their projects.
Overall, it was a very enriching, while challenging, experience. I am incredibly grateful to my very patient advisor, Dr. Grit Herzmann, for her guidance, the additional advice of Dr. Sharon Lynn, and my wonderful lab assistants, Emily Pistorova and Emma Barnard, who were instrumental in data collection.