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Acute stress selectively impairs learning to act

de Berker, AO; Tirole, M; Rutledge, RB; Cross, GF; Dolan, RJ; Bestmann, S; (2016) Acute stress selectively impairs learning to act. Scientific Reports , 6 (29816) 10.1038/srep29816. Green open access

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Abstract

Stress interferes with instrumental learning. However, choice is also influenced by non-instrumental factors, most strikingly by biases arising from Pavlovian associations that facilitate action in pursuit of rewards and inaction in the face of punishment. Whether stress impacts on instrumental learning via these Pavlovian associations is unknown. Here, in a task where valence (reward or punishment) and action (go or no-go) were orthogonalised, we asked whether the impact of stress on learning was action or valence specific. We exposed 60 human participants either to stress (socially-evaluated cold pressor test) or a control condition (room temperature water). We contrasted two hypotheses: that stress would lead to a non-selective increase in the expression of Pavlovian biases; or that stress, as an aversive state, might specifically impact action production due to the Pavlovian linkage between inaction and aversive states. We found support for the second of these hypotheses. Stress specifically impaired learning to produce an action, irrespective of the valence of the outcome, an effect consistent with a Pavlovian linkage between punishment and inaction. This deficit in action-learning was also reflected in pupillary responses; stressed individuals showed attenuated pupillary responses to action, hinting at a noradrenergic contribution to impaired action-learning under stress.

Type: Article
Title: Acute stress selectively impairs learning to act
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1038/srep29816
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/srep29816
Language: English
Additional information: This 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/
Keywords: Science & Technology, Multidisciplinary Sciences, Science & Technology - Other Topics, COLD-PRESSOR TEST, WORKING-MEMORY, INSTRUMENTAL TRANSFER, DECISION-MAKING, LOCUS-COERULEUS, RISK-TAKING, CORTISOL, CORTEX, REWARD, SHOCK
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/1508731
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