Acute stress blunts prediction error signals in the dorsal striatum during reinforcement learning

Carvalheiro, J. , Conceição, V. A., Mesquita, A. and Seara-Cardoso, A. (2021) Acute stress blunts prediction error signals in the dorsal striatum during reinforcement learning. Neurobiology of Stress, 15, 100412. (doi: 10.1016/j.ynstr.2021.100412) (PMID:34761081) (PMCID:PMC8566898)

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Acute stress is pervasive in everyday modern life and is thought to affect how people make choices and learn from them. Reinforcement learning, which implicates learning from the unexpected rewarding and punishing outcomes of our choices (i.e., prediction errors), is critical for adjusted behaviour and seems to be affected by acute stress. However, the neural mechanisms by which acute stress disrupts this type of learning are still poorly understood. Here, we investigate whether and how acute stress blunts neural signalling of prediction errors during reinforcement learning using model-based functional magnetic resonance imaging. Male participants completed a well-established reinforcement-learning task involving monetary gains and losses whilst under stress and control conditions. Acute stress impaired participants’ (n = 23) behavioural performance towards obtaining monetary gains (p < 0.001), but not towards avoiding losses (p = 0.57). Importantly, acute stress blunted signalling of prediction errors during gain and loss trials in the dorsal striatum (p = 0.040) — with subsidiary analyses suggesting that acute stress preferentially blunted signalling of positive prediction errors. Our results thus reveal a neurocomputational mechanism by which acute stress may impair reward learning.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:ASC was supported by Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) [SFRH/BPD/94970/2013, PTDC/MHC-PCN/2296/ 2014, co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund through COMPETE2020 under the PT2020 Partnership Agreement (POCI-01-0145-FEDER-016747)]. AM was supported by FCT and from EU through the European Social Fund and from the Human Potential Operational Program [IF/00750/2015]. JC was supported by FCT through the Portuguese State Budget and European Social Fund through the Human Capital Operational Program, North Portugal Regional Operational Programme (PD/BD/128467/2017). This study was also supported by the European Regional Development Fund and FCT (POCI01-0145-FEDER-028228). This study was conducted at the Psychology Research Center (PSI/01662), School of Psychology, University of Minho, supported by FCT through the Portuguese State Budget (UID/ PSI/01662/2020).
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Carvalheiro, Dr Joana
Authors: Carvalheiro, J., Conceição, V. A., Mesquita, A., and Seara-Cardoso, A.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Psychology & Neuroscience
Journal Name:Neurobiology of Stress
Published Online:27 October 2021
Copyright Holders:Copyright © The Author(s) 2021
First Published:First published in Neurobiology of Stress 15: 100412
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence

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