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

Meyer, T; Quaedflieg, CWEM; Bisby, JA; Smeets, T; (2019) Acute stress – but not aversive scene content – impairs spatial configuration learning. Cognition and Emotion 10.1080/02699931.2019.1604320. (In press).

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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
DOI: 10.1080/02699931.2019.1604320
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2019.1604320
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Spatial Contextual Cueing Task, Maastricht Acute Stress Test, dual representation theory, posttraumatic stress disorder, cortisol
UCL classification: 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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