Effects of Stress Hormones on Emotion and Cognition

The safety and scientific validity of this study is the responsibility of the study sponsor and investigators. Listing a study does not mean it has been evaluated by the U.S. Federal Government. Read our disclaimer for details. Identifier: NCT00032838
Recruitment Status : Completed
First Posted : April 4, 2002
Last Update Posted : March 4, 2008
Information provided by:
National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (CC)

Brief Summary:

The purpose of this study is to examine how hormonal changes that occur during stressful situations affect thought and emotions. Results from this study may lead to treatments that can alleviate the psychological effects of trauma.

Levels of cortisol and norepinephrine increase in response to stress; these hormones also influence thought processes. This study will give hydrocortisone and/or yohimbine (a stimulator of central norepinephrine) to healthy adults in order to model the stress response and to better understand the way people process information during traumatic events.

This study comprises two experiments in which the stress response is pharmacologically modeled. Participants in the study will have two study visits. During Visit 1, participants will undergo a psychiatric assessment, complete neuropsychological tasks, and have their IQ measured. During Visit 2, participants will be given hydrocortisone and/or yohimbine. Blood will be collected before and during this. Participants will then perform two experiments. In one experiment, participants will hear a story with emotional and non-emotional segments; in a second experiment, participants will view both emotional and non-emotional stimuli.

Condition or disease Intervention/treatment
Healthy Drug: Yohimbine

Detailed Description:

Memories for traumatic events are fundamentally different from typical memories. Individuals who witness or are involved in an extremely stressful event, such as a robbery or a violent act, retain highly accurate memories for the information directly related to the trauma (e.g., a gun or verbal threat), while surrounding details are poorly remembered. This so-called weapon focus phenomenon has been found in both naturalistic and laboratory studies with humans. However, difficulties with the control of naturalistic studies and approximating trauma in the lab limit the validity of these findings.

Neurophysiologically, cortisol and norepinephrine are principal mediators of the stress response, and both influence memory function. In particular, cortisol improves memory at low levels but impairs memory at higher doses. Similarly, some evidence indicates that norepinephrine also enhances memory in low doses and either impairs or does not influence memory at high doses. Much of the experimental work in this area has been conducted with animals. Studies have recently begun to extend these paradigms to humans.

To better understand memory processing during trauma, hydrocortisone and/or yohimbine (a stimulator of central norepinephrine) will be administered to healthy adults in two experiments in order to pharmacologically model the stress response. Following infusion, participants will hear a story with emotional and nonemotional segments in one experiment (N = 80) and emotional as well as nonemotional stimuli (faces and scenes) in another experiment (N = 80). It is predicted that relative to the placebo, hydrocortisone will impair memory for both emotional and nonemotional information, yohimbine will improve memory for both types of information, and the combination of hydrocortisone and yohimbine will enhance memory for emotional aspects and impair memory for the nonemotional segments of the story. Results from this study will permit a better understanding of how emotionally charged memories are encoded and will potentially lead to treatments to mitigate the psychological effects of traumatic exposure.

Study Type : Observational
Enrollment : 170 participants
Official Title: The Effects of Cortisol and Norepinephrine Modulation on Emotional and Nonemotional Processing
Study Start Date : March 2002
Study Completion Date : January 2006

Resource links provided by the National Library of Medicine

U.S. FDA Resources

Information from the National Library of Medicine

Choosing to participate in a study is an important personal decision. Talk with your doctor and family members or friends about deciding to join a study. To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the contacts provided below. For general information, Learn About Clinical Studies.

Ages Eligible for Study:   Child, Adult, Senior
Sexes Eligible for Study:   All
Accepts Healthy Volunteers:   Yes


Age: 18-36

IQ: all subjects will have IQ greater than 85

Follicular cycle: Women will participate in the encoding task between days 3-10.



Only healthy individuals will participate; special attention will be taken to ensure that no subject has: hypertension, glaucoma, cataracts, ulcers, renal insufficiency, osteoporosis, hypothyroidism, cirrhosis, ocular herpes simplex and myocardial infarction.

Use of hormonal contraception

Use of glucocorticoids within past 3 years

Use of any psychoactive substance; current or past psychiatric diagnosis.

Irregular sleep pattern as defined as getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night, going to sleep after 2:00 AM; waking up before 5:00 AM or after 11:00 AM

Weight that is 15% more or less than ideal body weight for sex and height

History of panic attacks or first degree relative with history of panic attacks

Information from the National Library of Medicine

To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the contact information provided by the sponsor.

Please refer to this study by its identifier (NCT number): NCT00032838

United States, Maryland
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Bethesda, Maryland, United States, 20892
Sponsors and Collaborators
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Publications: Identifier: NCT00032838     History of Changes
Other Study ID Numbers: 020155
First Posted: April 4, 2002    Key Record Dates
Last Update Posted: March 4, 2008
Last Verified: January 2006

Keywords provided by National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (CC):
Healthy Volunteer
Normal Control

Additional relevant MeSH terms:
Adrenergic alpha-Agonists
Adrenergic Agonists
Adrenergic Agents
Neurotransmitter Agents
Molecular Mechanisms of Pharmacological Action
Physiological Effects of Drugs
Autonomic Agents
Peripheral Nervous System Agents
Vasoconstrictor Agents
Adrenergic alpha-2 Receptor Antagonists
Adrenergic alpha-Antagonists
Adrenergic Antagonists
Urological Agents