Stress-induced impairment of spatial navigation in females

Kevin G.F. Thomas, Holly E. Laurance, Lynn Nadel, W. Jake Jacobs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Earlier work predicted that the physiological effects of an acute stressor disrupt a neurological system underlying cognitive-map (CM) guided navigation, but leave intact systems underlying landmark (LM) guided navigation. This prediction has been only partially confirmed. Furthermore, no-one has investigated sex differences in the relations between acute stress and spatial navigation, even though stress affects verbal memory and decision-making performance of males and females differently. We administered the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), a standardized laboratory procedure designed to induce mild psychosocial stress, to 15 healthy undergraduates to examine the effects of acute stress on CM- and LM-guided navigation in men and women. They, and a demographically matched control group of 14 undergraduates, completed a virtual environment navigation task. Exposure to the TSST disrupted CM-guided (but not LM-guided) navigation in women, but affected neither in men. The data partially support the previous work, and offer novel findings regarding the relative vulnerability to acute psychosocial stress of CM-based navigation in females.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)32-43
Number of pages12
JournalSouth African Journal of Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2010


  • Cognitive mapping
  • Sex differences
  • Spatial navigation
  • Stress
  • Virtual environment
  • Wayfinding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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