Speaking under pressure: Low linguistic complexity is linked to high physiological and emotional stress reactivity

Laura R. Saslow*, Shannon Mccoy, Ilmo van der Löwe, Brandon Cosley, Arbi Vartan, Christopher Oveis, Dacher Keltner, Judith T. Moskowitz, Elissa S. Epel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


What can a speech reveal about someone's state? We tested the idea that greater stress reactivity would relate to lower linguistic cognitive complexity while speaking. In Study 1, we tested whether heart rate and emotional stress reactivity to a stressful discussion would relate to lower linguistic complexity. In Studies 2 and 3, we tested whether a greater cortisol response to a standardized stressful task including a speech (Trier Social Stress Test) would be linked to speaking with less linguistic complexity during the task. We found evidence that measures of stress responsivity (emotional and physiological) and chronic stress are tied to variability in the cognitive complexity of speech. Taken together, these results provide evidence that our individual experiences of stress or "stress signatures"-how our body and mind react to stress both in the moment and over the longer term-are linked to how complex our speech under stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)257-266
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Cognition
  • Cognitive complexity
  • Cortisol reactivity
  • Language
  • Stress reactivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Neuroscience(all)


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