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J Neurosci. 2010 Jun 16;30(24):8190-6. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0734-10.2010.

Concurrent glucocorticoid and noradrenergic activity shifts instrumental behavior from goal-directed to habitual control.

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1
Department of Cognitive Psychology, Ruhr-University Bochum, 44780 Bochum, Germany. Lars.Schwabe@rub.de

Abstract

Stress modulates instrumental action in favor of habitual stimulus-response processes that are insensitive to changes in outcome value and at the expense of goal-directed action-outcome processes. The neuroendocrine mechanism underlying this phenomenon is unknown. Here, we tested the hypothesis that concurrent glucocorticoid and noradrenergic activity bias instrumental behavior toward habitual performance. To this end, healthy men and women received hydrocortisone, the alpha2-adrenoceptor antagonist yohimbine or both orally before they were trained in two instrumental actions leading to two distinct food outcomes. After training, one of the outcomes was devalued by inviting participants to eat that food to satiety. A subsequent extinction test revealed whether instrumental performance was goal-directed or habitual. Participants that received hydrocortisone or yohimbine alone decreased responding to the devalued action in the extinction test, i.e., they behaved goal-directed. The combined administration of hydrocortisone and yohimbine, however, rendered participants' behavior insensitive to changes in the value of the goal (i.e., habitual). These findings demonstrate that the concerted action of glucocorticoids and noradrenergic activity shifts instrumental behavior from goal-directed to habitual control.

PMID:
20554869
DOI:
10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0734-10.2010
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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