Comparison between the Effects of Acute Physical and Psychosocial Stress on Feedback-Based Learning

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Stress modulates feedback-based learning, a process that has been implicated in declining mental function in aging and mental disorders. While acute physical and psychosocial stressors have been used interchangeably in studies on feedback-based learning, the two types of stressors involve distinct physiological and psychological processes. Whether the two types of stressors differentially influence feedback processing remains unclear. The present study compared the effects of physical and psychosocial stressors on feedback-based learning. Ninety-six subjects (Mage = 19.11 years; 50 female) completed either a cold pressor task (CPT) or mental arithmetic task (MAT), as the physical or psychosocial stressor, while electrocardiography and blood pressure were measured to assess cardiovascular stress reactivity (CVR). Self-ratings on the emotional valence of the stressors were also obtained. A probabilistic learning task was given prior to and after the stressors. Accuracy in selecting positive (Go accuracy) and avoiding negative stimuli (No-go accuracy) were recorded as learning outcomes. Repeated measures ANOVA and multiple regressions were used to compare the effects of two stressors and examine the effects of CVR and valence on the learning outcomes. The results showed that although the effects of CPT and MAT on feedback processing were not different, CVR and valence influenced Go and No-go accuracy, respectively. The results suggest that stress-modulated feedback-based learning involves multiple pathways and underscore the link between CVR and reward sensitivity. The findings have clinical implications and may contribute to a better understanding of human behavioral systems.




Yang, X.; Nackley, B.; Friedman, B.H. Comparison between the Effects of Acute Physical and Psychosocial Stress on Feedback-Based Learning. Brain Sci. 2023, 13, 1127.