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Activation Of The Arousal Response Can Impair Performance On A Simple Motor Task

J. Timothy Noteboom, Monika Fleshner, Roger M. Enoka

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The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of arousal in men and women on the moment-to-moment performance of a simple motor task. We examined the control of a precision task in the presence and absence of imposed stressors. Twenty-nine subjects (14 men, 15 women; 18–44 yr) were randomly assigned to either a control group or one of two stressor groups, Mental Math or Electric Shock. Subjects presented with Math and Shock stressors, which lasted 10 min, experienced significant increases in cognitive and physiological arousal compared with baseline and control subjects. Heart rate, systolic blood pressure, and electrodermal activity were elevated 5–80% with presentation of the stressors, whereas diastolic blood pressure and salivary cortisol were unchanged. The greater levels of cognitive and physiological arousal were associated with reductions in steadiness of a pinch grip for the Shock subjects (∼130% reduction from baseline) but not for the subjects in the Math group, who experienced heightened arousal but no change in steadiness (10% reduction from baseline). Although women exhibited more of a reduction in steadiness than men, the effect was largely unrelated to the magnitude of the change in arousal.