The effects of a stressful challenge on the processing of
emotional words were examined in college students. Stress induction
was achieved using a competitive computer task, where the
individual either repeatedly lost or won against a confederate.
Mood, attention, and cortisol were recorded during the study.
There were four findings: (1) Participants in the negative stressor
condition were faster to shift attention away from negative
words than positive or neutral words; (2) attentional shifts
away from negative words were associated with stress-induced
mood lowering; (3) participants in the negative stress condition
with elevated scores on the Beck Depression Inventory were slow
to disengage attention from all stimuli; and (4) elevated
depression scores were associated with lower cortisol change
from baseline during the experimental phase, and with higher
cortisol levels during the recovery phase. These findings point
to information-processing strategies as a means to regulate
emotion, and to atypical features of cognitive and adrenocortical
function that may serve as putative risk markers of depression.