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Experimentally induced and real-world anxiety have no demonstrable effect on goal-directed behaviour

  • C. M. Gillan (a1) (a2), M. M. Vaghi (a3), F. H. Hezemans (a3), S. van Ghesel Grothe (a4), J. Dafflon (a5), A. B. Brühl (a6), G. Savulich (a3) and T. W. Robbins (a3)...

Abstract

Background

Goal-directed control guides optimal decision-making and it is an important cognitive faculty that protects against developing habits. Previous studies have found some evidence of goal-directed deficits when healthy individuals are stressed, and in psychiatric conditions characterised by compulsive behaviours and anxiety. Here, we tested if goal-directed control is affected by state anxiety, which might explain the former results.

Methods

We carried out a causal test of this hypothesis in two experiments (between-subject N = 88; within-subject N = 50) that used the inhalation of hypercapnic gas (7.5% CO2) to induce an acute state of anxiety in healthy volunteers. In a third experiment (N = 1413), we used a correlational design to test if real-life anxiety-provoking events (panic attacks, stressful events) are associated with impaired goal-directed control.

Results

In the former two causal experiments, we induced a profoundly anxious state, both physiologically and psychologically, but this did not affect goal-directed performance. In the third, correlational, study, we found no evidence for an association between goal-directed control, panic attacks or stressful life eventsover and above variance accounted for by trait differences in compulsivity.

Conclusions

In sum, three complementary experiments found no evidence that anxiety impairs goal-directed control in human subjects.

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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: M. M. Vaghi, E-mail: matilde.vaghi@gmail.com

Footnotes

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Denotes equal first author contribution.

Present address: Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research, 10–12 Russell Square, London, United Kingdom.

Footnotes

References

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Experimentally induced and real-world anxiety have no demonstrable effect on goal-directed behaviour

  • C. M. Gillan (a1) (a2), M. M. Vaghi (a3), F. H. Hezemans (a3), S. van Ghesel Grothe (a4), J. Dafflon (a5), A. B. Brühl (a6), G. Savulich (a3) and T. W. Robbins (a3)...

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