Cortisol is a well-known endogenous glucocorticoid that serves as a stress indicator. It is normally released under stressful condition to warn about imminent danger and thus is critical for survival of the species. However, it is unclear how cortisol relates to cognitive process under physiological condition in high-order primates such as non-human primates (NHP). Here, we report that a slight but significant increase in blood cortisol level by mild stress is positively correlated with the cognitive function in cynomolgus monkey. We stimulated 3 groups of monkeys by viewing consecutive series of pictures of monkeys, pictures of humans, or animation still pictures. We first found that the blood cortisol level was significantly higher during the stimulation session and returned to normal after stimulation session. Among the three types of pictures, the monkeys which were stimulated with monkey pictures showed the most significant increase in cortisol level during stimulation. Furthermore, the monkeys showed significantly enhanced manipulation, suggesting that cortisol affected cognitive processes. Overall, our study demonstrates that visual stimulation both increases blood cortisol and enhances manipulating behavior. Therefore, unlike the common notion that cortisol is a stress indicator, our data supports that a mild increase of cortisol enhances cognition in NHP.
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