, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 199-218
Date: 05 Feb 2014

Does Sex Matter? The Moderating Role of Sex on the Relationship Between Stress Biomarkers and Cognition

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We examined the moderating role of sex on the relationship between salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase (sAA) and a diverse battery of cognitive outcomes including measures of working memory capacity, executive functioning, and prospective memory in addition to a more traditional memory measure (episodic memory). The final sample for the analyses included 144 participants (34 men and 110 women). Multiple regressions were performed to test the moderating role of sex on the stress biomarker-cognition relationship. For backward counting performance, higher cortisol levels were related to worse performance in men, but not women. Higher cortisol levels were also related to lower word recall, but only in men. Finally, men, but not women, had higher switching costs in the Trail Making task as levels of sAA rose. The results provide evidence that sex moderates the stress biomarker-cognition relationship in a variety of cognitive outcomes. Although not part of the primary analysis, sAA and cortisol interacted such that increased sAA levels were only negatively related to backward counting performance when cortisol levels were low. The findings are discussed primarily in terms of biological sex differences in the stress response.