Behavioral and self-reported sensitivity to reward are linked to stress-related differences in positive affect

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016 Apr;66:205-13. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.01.012. Epub 2016 Jan 15.


Despite the high prevalence of stress exposure healthy adaptation or resilience is a common response. Theoretical work and recent empirical evidence suggest that a robust reward system, in part, supports healthy adaptation by preserving positive emotions even under exceptionally stressful circumstances. We tested this prediction by examining empirical relations among behavioral and self-reported measures of sensitivity to reward, trait resilience, and measures of affect in the context of experimentally induced stress. Using a quasi-experimental design we obtained measures of sensitivity to reward (self-report and behavioral), as well as affective and physiological responses to experimental psychosocial stress in a sample of 140 healthy college-age participants. We used regression-based moderation and mediational models to assess associations among sensitivity to reward, affect in the context of stress, and trait resilience and found that an interaction between exposure to experimental stress and self-reported sensitivity to reward predicted positive affect following experimental procedure. Participants with high sensitivity to reward reported higher positive affect following stress. Moreover, positive affect during or after stress mediated the relation between sensitivity to reward and trait resilience. Consistent with the prediction that a robust reward system serves as a protective factor against stress-related negative outcomes, our results found predictive associations among sensitivity to reward, positive affect, and resilience.

Keywords: Cortisol; Heart rate; Positive affect; Resilience; Reward; Stress-related psychiatric disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Psychological Tests
  • Random Allocation
  • Resilience, Psychological
  • Reward*
  • Self Report
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Young Adult