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: In contrast to the assumption of efficiency wage models, which state that wage incentives should be positively correlated with productivity, high incentives may produce performance decrements in real life scenarios. Such a "choking under pressure" phenomenon exemplifies how psychological stress can profoundly shape human behavior, for good or for bad. Previous theories suggest that individual choking under pressure because that high pressure may distract individuals' attention away from the task (the distraction account), raise the attention paid to step-by-step skill processes (the explicit monitoring account), or elevate the arousal in general (the over-arousal account). Recent neuroimaging studies have shown that several brain regions implicated in motivation and top-down control of attention also play a key role in stress-induced choking, supporting for the over-arousal and distraction theories of choking. This review aims to identify psychological factors that determine choking and the neural underpinnings of these processes. Insights into how incentives influence performance may aid engineering training regimens and interventions that equip individuals to better handle high-stakes-induced psychological stress, and to thrive under stress.Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience 02/2015; 9:19. DOI:10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00019 · 4.16 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: Several studies have reported an association between deviant behaviour and cortisol reactivity to stress. However, relatively few studies have investigated the relationship between psychobiological stress reactivity and sexual risk-taking behaviours. In this study, cortisol reactivity to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) was measured in 26 healthy young adults prior to the administration of a sexual health and behaviour questionnaire. The cortisol response to the TSST was greater in those individuals who reported that at least one of their previous two sexual partners was someone whom they had just met. Results are discussed in the context of a model which suggests that early life stress dysregulates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and increases the likelihood of later life risk-taking behaviour. The findings have implications in terms of improving our understanding of psychobiological factors which predispose individuals to engage in adverse sexual health behaviours.04/2014; 2(1):221-230. DOI:10.1080/21642850.2014.889571
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ABSTRACT: Stress can precipitate the onset of mood and anxiety disorders. This may occur, at least in part, via a modulatory effect of stress on decision-making. Some individuals are, however, more resilient to the effects of stress than others. The mechanisms underlying such vulnerability differences are nevertheless unknown. In this study we attempted to begin quantifying individual differences in vulnerability by exploring the effect of experimentally induced stress on decision-making. The threat of unpredictable shock was used to induce stress in healthy volunteers (N = 47) using a within-subjects, within-session design, and its impact on a financial decision-making task (the Iowa Gambling Task) was assessed alongside anxious and depressive symptomatology. As expected, participants learned to select advantageous decks and avoid disadvantageous decks. Importantly, we found that stress provoked a pattern of harm-avoidant behaviour (decreased selection of disadvantageous decks) in individuals with low levels of trait anxiety. By contrast, individuals with high trait anxiety demonstrated the opposite pattern: stress-induced risk-seeking (increased selection of disadvantageous decks). These contrasting influences of stress depending on mood and anxiety symptoms might provide insight into vulnerability to common mental illness. In particular, we speculate that those who adopt a more harm-avoidant strategy may be better able to regulate their exposure to further environmental stress, reducing their susceptibility to mood and anxiety disorders.