The aim of this study was to examine the association between stress anticipated for the upcoming day and cognitive function later on that day, and how this relationship differed across age.
A diverse adult community sample (N = 240, age 25–65 years) completed ecological momentary assessment (EMA) reports for 2 weeks on a smartphone; each day they completed a morning survey upon waking, beeped surveys at five times during a day, and an end-of-day survey. Morning and end-of-day surveys included questions to measure stress anticipation, and each beeped survey included measures of stressful events, followed by a spatial working memory (WM) task.
Results from multilevel models indicated that stress anticipation reported upon waking, but not on the previous night, was associated with deficit in WM performance later that day; importantly, this effect was over and above the effect of EMA-reported stress. The detrimental effect of stress anticipation upon waking was invariant across age.
These findings suggest that anticipatory processes can produce harmful effects on cognitive functioning that are independent of everyday stress experiences. This may identify an important avenue to mitigate everyday cognitive lapses among older adults.