Acute stress selectively reduces reward sensitivity

Lisa H. Berghorst, Ryan Bogdan, Michael J. Frank, Diego A. Pizzagalli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Stress may promote the onset of psychopathology by disrupting reward processing. However, the extent to which stress impairs reward processing, rather than incentive processing more generally, is unclear. To evaluate the specificity of stress-induced reward processing disruption, 100 psychiatrically healthy females were administered a probabilistic stimulus selection task enabling comparison of sensitivity to reward-driven (Go) and punishment-driven (NoGo) learning under either 'no stress' or 'stress' (threat- of-shock) conditions. Cortisol samples and self-report measures were collected. Contrary to hypotheses, the groups did not differ significantly in task performance or cortisol reactivity. However, further analyses focusing only on individuals under 'stress' who were high responders with regard to both cortisol reactivity and self-reported negative affect revealed reduced reward sensitivity relative to individuals tested in the 'no stress' condition; importantly, these deficits were reward-specific. Overall, findings provide preliminary evidence that stress-reactive individuals show diminished sensitivity to reward but not punishment under stress. While such results highlight the possibility that stress-induced anhedonia might be an important mechanism linking stress to affective disorders, future studies are necessary to confirm this conjecture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberMAR
StatePublished - Mar 25 2013


  • Affect-cognition interactions
  • Anhedonia
  • Cortisol
  • Depression
  • Emotion
  • Punishment
  • Reward
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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