Social stress reactivity alters reward and punishment learning

James F. Cavanagh, Michael J. Frank, John J.B. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


To examine how stress affects cognitive functioning, individual differences in trait vulnerability (punishment sensitivity) and state reactivity (negative affect) to social evaluative threat were examined during concurrent reinforcement learning. Lower trait-level punishment sensitivity predicted better reward learning and poorer punishment learning; the opposite pattern was found in more punishment sensitive individuals. Increasing state-level negative affect was directly related to punishment learning accuracy in highly punishment sensitive individuals, but these measures were inversely related in less sensitive individuals. Combined electrophysiological measurement, performance accuracy and computational estimations of learning parameters suggest that trait and state vulnerability to stress alter cortico-striatal functioning during reinforcement learning, possibly mediated via medio-frontal cortical systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbernsq041
Pages (from-to)311-320
Number of pages10
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • Anterior cingulate
  • Computational psychiatry
  • EEG
  • Reinforcement learning
  • Social evaluative threat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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