Stress and decision-making in humans: performance is related to cortisol reactivity, albeit differently in men and women.
ABSTRACT Acutely elevated levels of cortisol are associated with euphoria and reward-like properties related to sensation-seeking behaviour. Thus, acute stress and elevated levels of cortisol may promote risk-taking behaviour. High cortisol responders are more sensitive to immediate rewards than low cortisol responders. In this study we therefore tested whether acute stress in male and female subjects, induced by the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), affects decision-making as measured by the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) and to what extent this is related to cortisol reactivity. Control subjects did not receive the stress manipulation. We specifically predict that high responders show risk-taking behaviour in the IGT compared to low responders and controls. The data show that the more (salivary) cortisol levels are elevated after the TSST the poorer the subsequent performance in the IGT in male subjects. In female subjects an inverse relationship between cortisol levels and IGT performance is observed: slightly elevated levels of cortisol after the TSST improve IGT performance, while highly elevated levels decrease IGT performance. Thus, acute stress as induced by the TSST affects decision-making behaviour of men and women differently and cortisol reactivity is associated with decision-making performance.
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ABSTRACT: We found previously in a lesion study that the right-sided sector of the ventromedial prefrontal cortices (VMPCs) was critical for social/emotional functioning and decision-making, whereas the left side appeared to be less important. It so happened that all but one of the subjects in that study were men, and the one woman did not fit the pattern very well. This prompted a follow-up investigation, in which we explored the following question: Does gender play a role in the development of defects in social conduct, emotional functioning and decision-making, following unilateral VMPC damage? We culled from our Patient Registry same-sex pairs of men or women patients who had comparable unilateral VMPC damage in either the left or right hemisphere. Two male pairs and one female pair were formed, and we included two additional women with unilateral right VMPC damage (8 patients in all). The domains of measurement covered social conduct, emotional processing and personality, and decision-making. We found a systematic effect of gender on the pattern of left-right asymmetry in VMPC. In men, there were severe defects following unilateral right VMPC damage, but not following left-sided damage. In women, there were defects following unilateral left VMPC damage; following right-sided damage, however, defects were mild or absent. The findings suggest that men and women may use different strategies to solve similar problems--e.g. men may use a more holistic, gestalt-type strategy, and women may use a more analytic, verbally-mediated strategy. Such differences could reflect asymmetric, gender-related differences in the neurobiology of left and right VMPC sectors.Brain 01/2006; 128(Pt 12):2872-81. · 9.92 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: Following damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, humans develop a defect in real-life decision-making, which contrasts with otherwise normal intellectual functions. Currently, there is no neuropsychological probe to detect in the laboratory, and the cognitive and neural mechanisms responsible for this defect have resisted explanation. Here, using a novel task which simulates real-life decision-making in the way it factors uncertainty of premises and outcomes, as well as reward and punishment, we find that prefrontal patients, unlike controls, are oblivious to the future consequences of their actions, and seem to be guided by immediate prospects only. This finding offers, for the first time, the possibility of detecting these patients' elusive impairment in the laboratory, measuring it, and investigating its possible causes.Cognition 01/1994; 50(1-3):7-15. · 3.16 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: A behavioral trait in rats which resembles some of the features of high-sensation seekers in man has been characterized. Given that the response to novelty is the basis of the definition of sensation-seeking, individual differences in reactivity to novelty have been studied on behavioral and biological levels. Certain individuals labeled as high responders (HR) as opposed to low responders (LR) have been shown to be highly reactive when exposed to a novel environment. These groups were investigated for free-choice responses to novel environments differing in complexity and aversiveness, and to other kinds of reinforcement, i.e. food and a drug. The HR rats appeared to seek novelty, variety and emotional stimulation. Only HR individuals have been found to be predisposed to drug-taking: they develop amphetamine self-administration whereas LR individuals do not. They also exhibit a higher sensitivity to the reinforcing properties of food. On a biological level, compared to LR rats, HR animals have an enhanced level of dopaminergic activity in the nucleus accumbens both under basal conditions or following a tail-pinch stress. HR and LR rats differ in reactivity of the corticotropic axis: HR rats exposed to a novel environment have a prolonged secretion of corticosterone compared to LR rats. The association of novelty, drug and food seeking in the same individual suggests that these characteristics share common processes. Differences in dopaminergic activity between HR and LR rats are consistent with results implicating these dopaminergic neurons in response to novelty and in drug-taking behavior. Given that rats self-administer corticosterone and that HR rats are more sensitive to the reinforcing properties of corticosteroids, it could be speculated that HR rats seek novelty for the reinforcing action of corticosterone. These characteristics may be analogous to some for the features found in human high-sensation seekers and this animal model may be useful in determinating the biological basis of this human trait.Neuropsychobiology 02/1996; 34(3):136-45. · 2.37 Impact Factor