Chronic stress is associated with profound behavioral and physiological alterations, including intolerance to uncertainty and reduced resting-state heart-rate-variability (HRV). Critically, uncertainty may arise in situations with known probabilities (risk) or unknown probabilities (ambiguity). Whether associations between chronic stress and decision-making under uncertainty are dependent on the specific type of uncertain decisions, and whether physiological alterations play a role in these putative associations is not yet clear. Here, ninety-two healthy adults that exhibit various levels of perceived chronic stress underwent resting-state HRV recording before completing a behavioral task that involves decision-making under either risk or ambiguity. Computational modelling quantified participants' behavioral attitudes of approach and avoidance separately for risk and ambiguity. Results indicate, as expected, that perceived chronic stress is positively associated with intolerance to uncertainty and negatively associated with resting-state HRV. Contrary to expectations, behavioral attitudes towards risk and ambiguity were not directly associated with perceived chronic stress, yet HRV fully mediated the association between chronic stress and ambiguity avoidance. Taken together and given the direction of the associations, elevated HRV despite chronic stress may foster adaptive behavior in the form of avoiding ambiguous situations, and hence contribute to reduced exposure to uncertainty and to lower levels of allostatic load.
© 2022. The Author(s).