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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)...



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.


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.


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.


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

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, 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:


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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.



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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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