INTRODUCTION: Cognitive flexibility represents a core component of executive function that promotes the ability to efficiently alternate-or "switch"-between different tasks. Literature suggests that acute stress negatively impacts cognitive flexibility, whereas a single bout of aerobic exercise supports a postexercise improvement in cognitive flexibility. Here, we examined whether a single bout of aerobic exercise attenuates a stress-induced decrement in task-switching. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Forty participants (age range = 19-30) completed the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and were randomized into separate Exercise or Rest groups entailing 20-min sessions of heavy intensity exercise (80% of heart rate maximum via cycle ergometer) or rest, respectively. Stress induction was confirmed via state anxiety and heart rate. Task-switching was assessed prior to the TSST (i.e., pre-TSST), following the TSST (i.e., post-TSST), and following Exercise and Rest interventions (i.e., post-intervention) via pro- (i.e., saccade to veridical target location) and antisaccades (i.e., saccade mirror-symmetrical to target location) arranged in an AABB task-switching paradigm. The underlying principle of the AABB paradigm suggests that when prosaccades are preceded by antisaccades (i.e., task-switch trials), the reaction times are longer compared to their task-repeat counterparts (i.e., unidirectional prosaccade switch-cost). RESULTS: As expected, the pre-TSST assessment yielded a prosaccade switch cost. Notably, post-TSST physiological measures indicated a reliable stress response and at this assessment a null prosaccade switch-cost was observed. In turn, post-intervention assessments revealed a switch-cost independent of Exercise and Rest groups. CONCLUSION: Accordingly, the immediate effects of acute stress supported improved task-switching in young adults; however, these benefits were not modulated by a single bout of aerobic exercise.
antisaccades, cognitive flexibility, executive function, oculomotor, psychosocial stressor