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Acute stress – but not aversive scene content – impairs spatial configuration learning

Meyer, T; Quaedflieg, CWEM; Bisby, JA; Smeets, T; (2020) Acute stress – but not aversive scene content – impairs spatial configuration learning. Cognition and Emotion , 34 (2) pp. 201-216. 10.1080/02699931.2019.1604320. Green open access

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Abstract

Contextual learning pervades our perception and cognition and plays a critical role in adjusting to aversive and stressful events. Our ability to memorise spatial context has been studied extensively with the contextual cueing paradigm, in which participants search for targets among simple distractor cues and show search advantages for distractor configurations that repeat across trials. Mixed evidence suggests that confrontation with adversity can enhance as well as impair the contextual cueing effect. We aimed to investigate this relationship more systematically by devising a contextual cueing task that tests spatial configuration learning within complex visual scenes that were emotionally neutral or negative (Study 1) and was preceded by the Maastricht Acute Stress Test (MAST) or a no-stress control condition (Study 2). We demonstrate a robust contextual cueing effect that was comparable across negative and neutral scenes (Study 1). In Study 2, acute stress disrupted spatial configuration learning irrespective of scene valence and endogenous cortisol reactivity to stress. Together with the emerging evidence in the literature, our findings suggest that spatial configuration learning may be subject to complex regulation as a function of spatial or temporal proximity to a stressor, with potential implications for the development of stress-related psychopathology.

Type: Article
Title: Acute stress – but not aversive scene content – impairs spatial configuration learning
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/02699931.2019.1604320
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2019.1604320
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © 2019 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
Keywords: Spatial Contextual Cueing Task, Maastricht Acute Stress Test, dual representation theory, posttraumatic stress disorder, cortisol
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Clinical, Edu and Hlth Psychology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Division of Psychiatry
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10073880
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