Chronic and acute stress promote overexploitation in serial decision making

Jennifer K. Lenow, Sara M. Constantino, Nathaniel D. Daw, Elizabeth A. Phelps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Many decisions that humans make resemble foraging problems in which a currently available, known option must be weighed against an unknown alternative option. In such foraging decisions, the quality of the overall environment can be used as a proxy for estimating the value of future unknown options against which current prospects are compared. We hypothesized that such foraging-like decisions would be characteristically sensitive to stress, a physiological response that tracks biologically relevant changes in environmental context. Specifically, we hypothesized that stress would lead to more exploitative foraging behavior. To test this, we investigated how acute and chronic stress, as measured by changes in cortisol in response to an acute stress manipulation and subjective scores on a questionnaire assessing recent chronic stress, relate to performance in a virtual sequential foraging task. We found that both types of stress bias human decision makers toward overexploiting current options relative to an optimal policy. These findings suggest a possible computational role of stress in decision making in which stress biases judgments of environmental quality.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)5681-5689
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number23
StatePublished - Jun 7 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


  • Decision making
  • Foraging
  • Stress


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