New ACL publication: Acta Psychologica


We propose that the domain general process of categorization contributes to the perception of stress. When a situation contains features associated with stressful experiences, it is categorized as stressful. From the perspective of situated cognition, the features used to categorize experiences as stressful are the features typically true of stressful situations. To test this hypothesis, we asked participants to evaluate the perceived stress of 572 imagined situations, and to also evaluate each situation for how much it possessed 19 features potentially associated with stressful situations and their processing (e.g., self-threat, familiarity, visual imagery, outcome certainty). Following variable reduction through factor analysis, a core set of 8 features associated with stressful situations—expectation violation, self-threat, coping efficacy, bodily experience, arousal, negative valence, positive valence, and perseveration—all loaded on a single Core Stress Features factor. In a multilevel model, this factor and an Imagery factor explained 88% of the variance in judgments of perceived stress, with significant random effects reflecting differences in how individual participants categorized stress. These results support the hypothesis that people categorize situations as stressful to the extent that typical features of stressful situations are present. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to establish a comprehensive set of features that predicts perceived stress.


Lebois, L. A., Hertzog, C., Slavich, G. M., Barrett, L. F., & Barsalou, L. W. (2016). Establishing the situated features associated with perceived stress. Acta Psychologica, 169, 119-132.

New ACL publication: Brain and Cognition


Although the hippocampus is thought to play a central role in the regulation of the cortisol awakening response (CAR), results from past studies examining the relationship between the CAR and hippocampal-mediated memory and cognition have been mixed. Inconsistent findings may be due to the use of cortisol samples collected on only 1–2 days since reduced sampling can permit unstable situational factors to bias results. We used cortisol assessments from 10 consecutive days to test the relationship of the CAR to episodic memory, working memory, and processing speed in a sample of healthy young, middle-aged, and older adults (age range: 23–79 years; N = 56). We tested if the relationship between the CAR and cognition would depend upon age and also tested if other cortisol measures, specifically waking cortisol, diurnal cortisol output (i.e., area under the curve) and diurnal cortisol slope (linear and quadratic), would be related to cognition. We found that a more positive CAR slope was related to better episodic memory and that this relationship did not depend upon age. The CAR was not significantly related to working memory. The relationship of the CAR to processing speed was not significant when using a CAR measure that corrected for non-compliant cortisol sampling. We also found that higher waking cortisol was significantly related to better working memory, but not episodic memory or processing speed. Neither diurnal cortisol output nor diurnal linear cortisol slope was significantly related to cognitive functioning. Future work should investigate the mechanisms underpinning the relationship of the cortisol awakening process to cognitive functioning.


Ennis, G. E., Moffat, S. D., & Hertzog, C. (2016). The cortisol awakening response and cognition across the adult lifespan. Brain and Cognition, 105, 66-77.

New ACL publication: Gerontology


Background: Previous studies have examined the relationships between physical health and leisure activities and between leisure activities and well-being, but, to our knowledge, none has examined these relationships simultaneously.

Objective: This study investigated the relationships between leisure activities, health and well-being considering the role of age, and whether leisure activities mediate the relationship between physical health and well-being.

Methods: Utilizing a cross-sectional database of 259 adults (ages 18–81 years) who completed several questionnaires, linear regression models and mediation models were tested. Results: Regression analyses indicated that physical health was related to leisure activities and leisure activities were related to well-being. When physical health was measured by subjective ratings, age had a stronger relationship with leisure activities. However, when physical health was indicated by health restrictions, physical health had a stronger relationship with leisure activities than did age. Leisure activities were a partial mediator of the relationship between physical health and well-being.

Conclusion: The results demonstrated that the reduction in leisure activities with age has more to do with physical health limitations than with older age itself. In addition, regardless of age, the benefits of physical health for well-being are due in part to the level of leisure activity participation. These results highlight the importance of leisure activities for successful aging throughout the adult life span. Interventions designed to improve well-being through increasing leisure activity participation should take physical health into consideration, particularly for older adults.


Paggi, M. E., Jopp, D., & Hertzog, C. (2016). The importance of leisure activities in the relationship between physical health and well-being in a life span sample. Gerontology, 62, 450-458.

New ACL publication: Memory & Aging


Value-based remembering in free-recall tasks may be spared from the typical age-related cognitive decline observed for episodic memory. However, it is unclear whether value-based remembering for associative information is also spared from age-related cognitive decline. The current experiments evaluated the contribution of agenda-based based regulation and strategy use during study to age differences and similarities in value-based remembering of associative information. Participants studied word pairs (Experiments 1–2) or single words (Experiment 2) slated with different point values by moving a mouse controlled cursor to different spatial locations to reveal either items for study or the point value associated with remembering each item. Some participants also provided strategy reports for each item. Younger and older adults allocated greater time to studying high- than low-valued information, reported using normatively effective encoding strategies to learn high-valued pairs, and avoided study of low-valued pairs. As a consequence, both age groups selectively remembered more high- than low-valued items. Despite nearly identical regulatory behavior, an associative memory deficit for older adults was present for high-valued pairs. Age differences in value-based remembering did not occur when the materials were word lists. Fluid intelligence also moderated the effectiveness of older adults’ strategy use for high-valued pairs (Experiment 2). These results suggest that age differences in associative value-based remembering may be due to some older adults’ gleaning less benefit from using normatively effective encoding strategies rather than age differences in metacognitive self-regulation per se.


Ariel, R., Price, J., & Hertzog, C. (2015). Age-related associative memory deficits in value-based remembering: The contribution of agenda-based regulation and strategy use. Psychology and aging, 30(4), 795.


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