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Effects of psychosocial stress on the goal-directed and habit memory systems during learning and later execution



Effects of psychosocial stress on the goal-directed and habit memory systems during learning and later execution



Psychoneuroendocrinology 77: 275-283



Instrumental learning occurs through both goal-directed and habit memory systems, which are supported by anatomically distinct brain systems. Interestingly, stress may promote habits at the expense of goal-directed performance, since stress before training in an instrumental task was found to cause individuals to carry on with the learned association in spite of a devalued outcome. These findings nevertheless left pending questions, and it has been difficult to determine which system is primarily affected by stress (an improved habit system, an impaired goal-directed system, or both) and at what point the stress acts (at the moment of learning by making more resistant habits, or after devaluation by making individuals less sensitive to change in the outcome value). The present study (N=72 participants, 63 males and 9 females) aimed to answer these questions with (i) an instrumental task that dissociates the two memory systems and (ii) three conditions of psychosocial stress exposure (Trier Social Stress Test): stress induced before learning, before devaluation, and not induced for the control group. The study confirms that exposure to psychosocial stress leads to habitual performance. Moreover, it provides new insight into this effect by locating its origin as an impairment in the capacity of the goal-directed system rather than a reinforcement in habit learning. These results are discussed in light of recent neurobiological models of stress and memory.

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Accession: 059663254

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PMID: 28131067

DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.12.008


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