How Stress Affects Concurrent Learning and Memory Integration during Decision-Making

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Beveridge, Elizabeth
Holder, Mary
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Spatial navigation presents as a realistic way to measure decision-making as acute stress has been shown to disrupt the hippocampal network involved in planning during navigation (Gagnon et al., 2018) and encourage the use of familiar routes over short-cuts (Brown et al., 2020). This planning during decision-making requires both memory retrieval and memory integration, the placement of weight on recalled past memories (He et al., 2022). While existing literature suggests acute stress impairs memory retrieval, there is no research on how stress affects memory integration during decision-making. To fill this critical gap in the literature, this study exposes half of its participants to stress via an electrical shock and uses a spatial navigation paradigm to measure how stress affects memory integration during decision-making. All 82 participants, divided roughly equally between gender and condition, navigated a virtual environment searching for goal objects. For each trial, the participant was prompted to decide between a familiar route with a lower payout or an unfamiliar route with a higher payout. For each participant, we used computational modeling to measure the degree of memory integration. We suspect that since stress impairs memory retrieval and decreases the use of shortcuts in spatial navigation, the degree of memory integration will decrease in the stress group. As hypothesized, participants in the stress group had significantly decreased memory integration than individuals in the control group (p=0.002), both expanding and validating the existing literature that acute stress impacts the prospective planning in decision-making during spatial navigation.
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