The Effects of Acute Stress on the Neural Correlates of Decision-Making

  • Jillian Lauren Toppings University of Victoria
  • Thomas Ferguson University of Victoria
  • Olave Krigolson, PhD University of Victoria



Stress has been defined in many ways and is typically induced as a response to a threat to homeostasis. Stress affects decision-making, and the effects of stress on subcomponents of decision-making can be indirectly measured through EEG. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of acute stress on the neural correlates of decision-making. We hypothesized that acute stress would decrease the reward and attentional sensitivity, seen through reduced P300 and reward positivity component activity. The results were that the mean percent change from baseline for heart rate was higher for the stress condition during the TSST. The stress group also had decreased positive affect scores and increased negative affect scores for the STAI questionnaire and decreased positive affect scores for the PANAS questionnaire. Additionally, while not significant, there was a trend towards reduced P300 component activity in the stress condition, potentially indicative of reduced attentional sensitivity. Further research is needed to explore the implications for reward sensitivity, utilizing multiple tasks, and including cortisol measurement. Stress is common to everyday life and has been implicated chronically in numerous health conditions. Understanding how stress affects executive function, particularly decision-making, is therefore crucial in both the short- and long-term.

            Keywords: stress; decision-making; ERPs; P300 component; reward positivity component






    *This research was supported by a Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Award, University of Victoria.

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