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Cognitive and Emotional Processing at High Altitude

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Pavlicek V, Schirlo C, Nebel A, Regard M, Koller EA, Brugger P. Cognitive and emotional processing at high altitude. Aviat Space Environ Med 2005; 76:28–33.

Introduction: Exposure to altitude reduces oxygen supply to the central nervous system and may cause a variety of neuropsychological impairments. We investigated the relationship between certain cognitive functions and cardiovascular and respiratory variables during acute hypobaric hypoxia. Methods: There were three groups of seven men who were each exposed to a 2-h altitude profile (AP) involving 30 min at each of the following simulated altitudes (m): AP1, 450–1500–3000; AP2, 450–1500–4500; Control 450–650–650. The neuropsychological tests included word fluency and three word-association tasks tapping processes of cognitive flexibility and emotion regulation. A lateralized tachistoscopic lexical decision task with high and low emotional target words was also administered to assess possible shifts in hemispheric superiorities for positive and negative affect. Results: No significant differences in word fluency, word association, or lateralized lexical decision performances were found, despite a significant oxygen desaturation and a drop in diastolic BP at 4500 m, indicating the beginning of central hypoxia in terms of a functional impairment of the vasomotor center. Conclusion: During acute exposure to hypobaric hypoxia, selected cognitive and affective functions mediated by the frontal lobe were preserved. Functional hemispheric asymmetries for emotional processes remained unchanged.
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Keywords: Hypobaric hypoxia; adaptation; functional hemispheric asymmetries; neuropsychological functions

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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