Examining the relationship between stress and brain function using naturalistic fMRI

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Craig, Joshua J.
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Lethbridge, Alta. : University of Lethbridge, Dept. of Neuroscience
Perceived stress is an individual’s subjective appraisal of the level of stress or pressure they are experiencing in response to external or internal demands. This perception is influenced by cognitive, emotional, and situational factors, and it may not always correspond directly to objective measures of stressors (Cohen et al., 1994). Recent research on perceived stress has highlighted its role in influencing cognition, leading to a disruption in cognitive processes, such as emotional processing, attention, perception, and memory (Aggarwal et al., 2014; Higgins, 2017; Tsai et al., 2019; Zhu et al., 2022). However, most neuroimaging studies examining stress have used static stimuli (e.g., still images) that do not encapsulate real-life multimodal processing, or stress induction paradigms looking at the recovery or onset of stress. The current research uses data from the Naturalistic Neuroimaging Database (v2.0; Aliko et al., 2020) to examine the differences in neural synchrony associated with low and high perceived stress using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) across positive and negative emotional valence stimuli. In four experiments, we assessed neural synchrony patterns modulated by perceived stress towards positive and negative emotionally valenced naturalistic stimuli, which better captures more “real-world” processing. Results from this work emphasize the modulating effect perceived stress elicits on cognitive processes, as well as how stress effects processing in response to emotional stimuli of differing valence, reflecting dynamic changes in neural synchrony of individuals based on their level of perceived stress. These findings extend beyond research advancement by bridging the gap in stress research and by revealing novel findings that have yet to be highlighted in naturalistic paradigms.
stress , brain function , naturalistic fMRI , perceived stress , neural synchrony patterns , cognitive processes