Stress and parenting often go hand in hand, with high physical and emotional demands from children often coupled with pressures and responsibilities adults bear from work, school, and other involvements outside the home. Parents often prioritize their children's needs above their own physical, emotional, and social needs. While current literature addresses stress in mothers, it has yet to understand under what circumstances her children may modify her stress levels and whether her stress response, in turn, affects cognition. This study seeks to investigate the impact of such a taxing environment on mothers' stress and cognition using a challenging mnemonic discrimination paradigm. It was hypothesized that the auditory distraction of a mother's own children during the task would impair her ability to encode and retrieve images and also increase her physiological stress response. Prior research has outlined how irrelevant noise and induced stress modify behavioral outcomes, and how mnemonic discrimination of emotional stimuli differs from that of neutral stimuli. However, to our knowledge, there have been no tests in any group using distracting noise (a type of induced stress) during emotionally valenced mnemonic discrimination tasks. This led to the development of our task in order to better understand stress and distraction coupled with valenced imagery. Encoding was divided into two blocks, with one block occurring during the presentation of white noise and the alternate block occurring during the presentation of noise from children, either live audio feed to a mother's own children (experimental condition) or prerecorded audio of a group of children (control condition). We found that retrieval did decrease as a result of child noise, and that memory performance for neutral stimuli was greater than for negative or positive stimuli. Physiological measurements (electrodermal activity and heart rate) were also obtained to view the stress response, but only electrodermal activity showed significance. A significant relationship was found between electrodermal activity and behavioral scores in the experimental group. Our results also suggest that perceived and induced stress coupled with distraction leads to lower memory performance and increased physiological stress responses.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





amygdala, child audio, distraction, electrodermal activity, emotion, hippocampus, memory, mothers, MST, stress, valence