Stress initiates an intricate response that affects diverse cognitive and affective domains, with the goal of improving survival chances in the light of changing environmental challenges. Here, we bridge animal data at cellular and systems levels with human work on brain-wide networks to propose a framework describing how stress-related neuromodulators trigger dynamic shifts in network balance, enabling an organism to comprehensively reallocate its neural resources according to cognitive demands. We argue that exposure to acute stress prompts a reallocation of resources to a salience network, promoting fear and vigilance, at the cost of an executive control network. After stress subsides, resource allocation to these two networks reverses, which normalizes emotional reactivity and enhances higher-order cognitive processes important for long-term survival.
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