A cognitive stressor for event-related potential studies: the Portland arithmetic stress task

Rachel Atchley, Roger Ellingson, Daniel Klee, Tabatha Memmott, Barry Oken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


In this experiment, we developed and evaluated the Portland Arithmetic Stress Task (PAST) as a cognitive stressor to evaluate acute and sustained stress reactivity for event-related potential (ERP) studies. The PAST is a titrated arithmetic task adapted from the Montreal Imaging Stress Task (MIST), with added experimental control over presentation parameters, improved and synchronized acoustic feedback and generation of timing markers needed for physiological analyzes of real-time brain activity. Thirty-one older adults (M = 60 years) completed the PAST. EEG was recorded to assess feedback-related negativity (FRN) and the magnitude of the stress response through autonomic nervous system activity and salivary cortisol. Physiological measures other than EEG included heart rate, respiration rate, heart rate variability, blood pressure and salivary cortisol. These measures were collected at several time points throughout the task. Feedback-related negativity evoked-potential responses were elicited and they significantly differed depending on whether positive or negative feedback was received. The PAST also increased systolic blood pressure, heart rate variability and respiration rates compared to a control condition attentional task. These preliminary results suggest that the PAST is an effective cognitive stressor. Successful measurement of the feedback-related negativity suggests that the PAST is conducive to EEG and time-sensitive ERP experiments. Moreover, the physiological findings support the PAST as a potent method for inducing stress in older adult participants. Further research is needed to confirm these results, but the PAST shows promise as a tool for cognitive stress induction for time-locked event-related potential experiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-284
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 4 2017


  • Stress reactivity
  • cognitive stressor
  • event-related potential
  • feedback-related negativity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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