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Computations of uncertainty mediate acute stress responses in humans

de Berker, AO; Rutledge, RB; Mathys, C; Marshall, L; Cross, GF; Dolan, RJ; Bestmann, S; (2016) Computations of uncertainty mediate acute stress responses in humans. Nature Communications , 7 , Article 10996. 10.1038/ncomms10996. Green open access

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Abstract

The effects of stress are frequently studied, yet its proximal causes remain unclear. Here we demonstrate that subjective estimates of uncertainty predict the dynamics of subjective and physiological stress responses. Subjects learned a probabilistic mapping between visual stimuli and electric shocks. Salivary cortisol confirmed that our stressor elicited changes in endocrine activity. Using a hierarchical Bayesian learning model, we quantified the relationship between the different forms of subjective task uncertainty and acute stress responses. Subjective stress, pupil diameter and skin conductance all tracked the evolution of irreducible uncertainty. We observed a coupling between emotional and somatic state, with subjective and physiological tuning to uncertainty tightly correlated. Furthermore, the uncertainty tuning of subjective and physiological stress predicted individual task performance, consistent with an adaptive role for stress in learning under uncertain threat. Our finding that stress responses are tuned to environmental uncertainty provides new insight into their generation and likely adaptive function.

Type: Article
Title: Computations of uncertainty mediate acute stress responses in humans
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10996
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms10996
Language: English
Additional information: his work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
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 > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology > Clinical and Movement Neurosciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology > Imaging Neuroscience
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1479788
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