Stress attenuates model-based learning in adolescents with high working-memory capacity
Raihyung Lee1, Heyeon Park1, Harim Park1, Woo-Young Ahn1, Seyul Kwak1, Jeanyung Chey1; 1Seoul National University
Studies have demonstrated a stress-induced shift in human choice behavior from model-based to model-free learning strategies. A previous study in adults has reported that this deleterious effect of stress on model-based learning can be prevented by individual executive resources, such as working-memory (WM) capacity. The purpose of this study was to determine whether the same relationship between stress, executive resources, and choice behavior holds for adolescents. In this study, we instructed 55 young adolescents (age, 13.22 years) to perform a two-step decision-making task, which assessed model-based and model-free strategies, and a digit-span task, which assessed the WM capacity. Stress was quantified using the Perceived Stress Scale, which is a well-validated questionnaire for measuring chronic stress. Consistent with the findings of the previous study in adults, model-based learning reduced in adolescents with high stress scores, whereas model-free learning was not associated with stress in this study. However, contrary to the results of the adult study, model-based learning was more severely attenuated by stress in adolescents with higher WM capacity in this study. These results suggest that adolescents with high executive resources show increased susceptibility to stress-induced brain damage. The results are discussed in light of the cognitive reserve theory.
Topic Area: THINKING: Decision making