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Authors: Meine, Laura Elisabeth
Title: The Modulatory Effect of Control on Stress Responding – A Translational Perspective with Implications for Resilience Research
Online publication date: 1-Dec-2021
Language: english
Abstract: Stress can exert marked and potentially long-lasting effects on an individual’s biology, behaviour, cognition, and emotion. Contrary to prevailing views, however, facing a stressor does not necessarily engender negative consequences. There are a number of factors that modulate the stress response. Control is one such factor that has been extensively studied yet merits further examination. Experiments in animals have established divergent effects of stressor controllability: whereas a lack of control over a stressor typically entails symptoms of learned helplessness (i.e., anxiety, passivity), the experience of control appears protective. Translational research has confirmed that this modulation is also evident in humans. However, this research is methodologically heterogeneous and has largely been focused on uncontrollable stress and its relevance for the aetiology of depression (a disorder with symptoms conspicuously resembling those of learned helplessness). The reported benefits of controllable stress, in contrast, have thus far mainly been addressed in animal research that aimed at delineating the underlying neurobiological processes. In this regard, findings highlight changes in brain circuits involving the dorsal raphe nucleus and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Although continued endeavours to better understand the aetiology of mental disorders such as depression are certainly needed, there has come a paradigm shift away from disease- oriented approaches. Researchers have increasingly examined factors that keep individuals mentally healthy despite severe stress exposure. Furthermore, the emerging field of resilience research is now working to shed light on the mechanisms that underlie the relationship between protective factors and a good mental health outcome. Against this backdrop, this dissertation is dedicated to further investigating stressor controllability effects and their neural correlates in humans. In study 1, a translational paradigm was developed that closely resembles the established animal design and tracks the effects of controllable and uncontrollable stress in humans on a behavioural, affective, and cognitive level. In study 2, this paradigm was then modified to study the direct neural correlates of stressor controllability, testing for parallels with findings from animal research. The results of both studies provide further evidence that control is a powerful modulator of the immediate stress response and subsequent functioning. Study 1 highlights controllability-dependent effects on decision-making and study 2 describes neural activation patterns consistent with the animal literature. Specifically, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex was differentially activated depending on stressor controllability. Furthermore, recruitment of this brain region was associated with the participants' subjective feeling of helplessness. With reference to the results, special attention is paid in the discussion to the positive effects of experiencing control and its relevance to resilience research. If the experience of control is accompanied by an internalization of a belief in high agency, which in turn has a positive effect on future stress reactions, it could constitute a resilience mechanism. There are already many approaches that capitalize on the role of objective or perceived controllability in the prevention and treatment of mental illness. However, the effectiveness of these approaches seems to depend, among other things, on contextual factors. For example, poverty represents an environment that affords little opportunity for proactive coping, precluding the usefulness of high perceived control. In consideration of these and other relevant factors, future research on stressor controllability should be conducted in more direct collaboration between animal and human researchers, incorporate perspectives from developmental psychology, and pay attention to more diversity in samples.
DDC: 150 Psychologie
150 Psychology
Institution: Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Department: FB 02 Sozialwiss., Medien u. Sport
Place: Mainz
URN: urn:nbn:de:hebis:77-openscience-62432396-43ce-48ab-ab2f-9e40fb8acba76
Version: Original work
Publication type: Dissertation
License: In Copyright
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Extent: xvi, 149 Seiten, Diagramme
Appears in collections:JGU-Publikationen

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