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Experiments show that stress increases desire for reward

Posted December 29, 2014

Stressful situations increase desire to get compensation. However, it does not make experienced pleasure larger. Eva Pool and her colleagues at the University of Geneva think that wanting and liking are processed by different neural mechanisms. “Such a mechanism supports the novel explanation proposed by animal research as to why stress often produces cue-triggered bursts of binge eating, relapses in drug addiction, or gambling,” the scientists claim.

Picture: Stress. Image credit: Giuseppe Savo via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Picture: Stress. Image credit: Giuseppe Savo via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

“As documented by a consistent corpus of literature, stress cannot only increase the consumption of high-calorie foods, but it can also increase the use of other kinds of rewards, such as drugs or sexual stimuli. Although these effects of stress have been proven to have a large impact on public health problems, the underlying psychological mechanisms remain poorly understood,” Swiss psychologists say.

It is often claimed that negative feelings caused by mental pressure can be relieved by pleasurable activities. Moreover, it is assumed that people experience stronger enjoyment after nerve-racking events. Nonetheless, alternative explanations exist. Some previous experiments with rodents provided evidence that reward seeking and experience of gratification is governed by distinct neural networks.

“We adapted an analog of a human Pavlovian-Instrumental Transfer test, which originally used a monetary reward , by instead using an olfactory reward (i.e., chocolate odor) to assess the effort mobilized to obtain it (i.e., wanting) and the hedonic pleasure during its consumption (i.e., liking); we administered this paradigm in stress and stress-free conditions,” the researchers explain.

Authors of the study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition report that individuals exposed to stressful situations tried harder to receive a reward. In fact, efforts to get it increased five times. However, scholars also showed that positive feelings experienced by those respondents are not stronger than satisfaction experienced by others. Interestingly, those individuals felt even a little bit worse than others.

“This finding supports the incentive salience theory, which postulates that wanting and liking represent two different components of reward processing that can be activated independently of each other under particular circumstances,” they conclude.

Article: Pool, E., Brosch, T., Delplanque, S., and Sander, D. (2014, December 22). Stress Increases Cue-Triggered “Wanting” for Sweet Reward in Humans. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition. Source link.

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