Acute stress induces selective alterations in cost/benefit decision-making

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 Sep;37(10):2194-209. doi: 10.1038/npp.2012.69. Epub 2012 May 9.


Acute stress can exert beneficial or detrimental effects on different forms of cognition. In the present study, we assessed the effects of acute restraint stress on different forms of cost/benefit decision-making, and some of the hormonal and neurochemical mechanisms that may underlie these effects. Effort-based decision-making was assessed where rats chose between a low effort/reward (1 press=2 pellets) or high effort/reward option (4 pellets), with the effort requirement increasing over 4 blocks of trials (2, 5, 10, and 20 lever presses). Restraint stress for 1 h decreased preference for the more costly reward and induced longer choice latencies. Control experiments revealed that the effects on decision-making were not mediated by general reductions in motivation or preference for larger rewards. In contrast, acute stress did not affect delay-discounting, when rats chose between a small/immediate vs larger/delayed reward. The effects of stress on decision-making were not mimicked by treatment with physiological doses of corticosterone (1-3 mg/kg). Blockade of dopamine receptors with flupenthixol (0.25 mg/kg) before restraint did not attenuate stress-induced effects on effort-related choice, but abolished effects on choice latencies. These data suggest that acute stress interferes somewhat selectively with cost/benefit evaluations concerning effort costs. These effects do not appear to be mediated solely by enhanced glucocorticoid activity, whereas dopaminergic activation may contribute to increased deliberation times induced by stress. These findings may provide insight into impairments in decision-making and anergia associated with stress-related disorders, such as depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Corticosterone / pharmacology
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Decision Making / drug effects
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Dopamine Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Flupenthixol / pharmacology
  • Glucocorticoids / physiology*
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Restraint, Physical
  • Reward
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Flupenthixol
  • Dopamine
  • Corticosterone