Acute stress stimulates or paralyzes? Both, researchers say in a rat study published in Scientific achievements. In rats, acute stress—as opposed to chronic stress, which is always disabling—causes low-anxiety people to perform better and, conversely, causes a sharp decline in naturally anxious rats’ abilities. These findings shed light on the physiological basis that anxiety is associated with pressure motivation and what therapeutic benefits we can derive from it.
The relationship between acute stress and motivation is unclear.
“If I put pressure on you, you should give it your all“, we sometimes hear in a family, school, or professional context. But this strategy may not work for everyone. Little is known about the effect of stress on motivation, that is, the process of overcoming the cost of an action to achieve a desired outcome. “Contrary to the conventional wisdom that chronic stress and stress-related psychopathologies are characterized by impaired motivation, data on the effect of acute stress on motivation is mixed.”, European researchers explain in the publication. After a stress attack, some studies show an improvement in performance, while others, on the contrary, show a change in motivation or no effect. “The positive motivating qualities of acute stress are largely unrecognized and much less understood.as its negative consequences, the authors add.
Under stress, motivation decreases in anxious rats and increases in others.
Their demonstration is carried out on rats, which, like humans, have different anxiety profiles. “We relied on this natural variation to select a population of rats with high anxiety and another group with low anxiety traits.”, explains Carmen Sandi, who led the work, in a press release. All rats trained to perform a specific task (such as pushing a lever) show the same results in normal situations. But after they were placed for a quarter of an hour on a high platform, which is the main source of stress, the results in anxious rats fall, while in low-anxiety rats they increase significantly.
The existence of individual variability in behavioral and cognitive responses to stress has already been observed in areas other than motivation, the researchers note.