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Impact of anxiety on neural and behavioral responses to incentives

Thursday, September 15, 2016 — Poster Session III

3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
FAES Terrace


  • B Fuchs
  • C Grillon
  • M Ernst
  • A Gorka


Potential rewards and losses motivate behavior and activate reward processing brain regions, including the striatum. Anticipation of predictable (signaled) aversive stimuli reduces neural responses to gain in the striatum. However, it is unclear how anticipation of unpredictable (not signaled) aversive stimuli impact neural processing of gain and loss. Here, we examine the impact of anxiety, induced by unpredictable shock, on neural and behavioral responses to anticipation of gain and loss. In an MRI scanner, healthy adults responded to a target, presented after either an incentive cue, to gain or avoid losing money, or a neutral cue devoid of monetary incentive under periods of safety and threat of shock. Correct responses depended on response speed. Effects of threat and incentive type were assessed using 2x3 repeated measures ANOVAs. Compared to neutral trials, incentive trials were associated with faster reaction times to target and greater BOLD responses in ventral striatum (VS) during target anticipation. Threat of shock increased BOLD responses in caudate and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. A priori ROI analyses revealed enhanced VS activation under threat during gain trials, and to a lesser extent, loss trials. Threat of unpredictable shock increased striatal responses during all types of trials in contrast to prior work reporting that predictable threat decreased VS activation to gain. This discrepancy may reflect methodological differences between the paradigms. A priori ROI analyses suggest that unpredictable threat impacts neural responses to the anticipation of gain and loss which may reflect the conflict between anxious anticipation and the processing of incentives.

Category: Neuroscience