Using Imagery as a Solution to Potentially Flawed Decisions Made Under Stress

February 11, 2012



Years of research have shown that stress influences cognition. Most of this research has focused on how stress affects memory and the hippocampus. However, stress also affects other regions involved in cognitive and emotional processing, including the prefrontal cortex, striatum, and insula. New research examining the impact of stress on decision processes reveals two consistent findings. First, acute stress enhances selection of previously rewarding outcomes but impairs avoidance of previously negative outcomes, possibly due to stress-induced changes in dopamine in reward-processing brain regions. Second, stress amplifies gender differences in strategies used during risky decisions, as males take more risk and females take less risk under stress. These gender differences in behavior are associated with differences in activity in the insula and dorsal striatum, brain regions involved in computing risk and preparing to take action.

Source: Sage Journals



That is, can the effective use of emotion regulation strategies during presentation of a reward–conditioned stimulus influence decision-making under risk and neural structures involved in reward processing such as the striatum? To investigate this question, we asked participants to engage in imagery-focused regulation strategies during the presentation of a cue that preceded a financial decision-making phase. During the decision phase, participants then made a choice between a risky and a safe monetary lottery. Participants who successfully used cognitive regulation, as assessed by subjective ratings about perceived success and facility in implementation of strategies, made fewer risky choices in comparison with trials where decisions were made in the absence of cognitive regulation.

The cognitive instruction was presented above the CS and directed to engage in imagery focused regulation by imagining a calming scene. Another technique is to force yourself to imagine the worse case outcome, not the best case. If you can accept the worst case scenario, then proceed.

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