The generalization of behavioral control over physical threats to social stressors in humans: A pilot fMRI study

J.S. Blythe, A. Mansueto, S.B. Duken, H. Cremers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Behavioral control, the ability to manage one's exposure to a given stressor, influences the impacts of both the present and future stressors. Behavioral control over a stressor may decrease stress caused by the stressor, and promote resilience towards future stressors. A lack of behavioral control may exacerbate the stress response and lead to learned helplessness, a generalized view that one cannot control other, unrelated stressors in their environment. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) may detect the presence of behavioral control over a stressor and communicate this to subcortical regions involved in stress responses, such as the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Building on previous research in animals and humans, we piloted a paradigm to investigate how behavioral control over a physical threat (electric shocks), generalized to responses for a subsequent social stressor (anticipation of public speaking). Our manipulation of behavioral control effected perceived control between groups, increased stress across but not between groups, and no effects generalized to the subsequent social stressor in behavioral, physiological, or neural responses. We discuss refinements to the paradigm to strengthen the manipulation, the potential impacts of statistical power on the present results, and metrics to measure the generalization of behavioral control in addition to vmPFC-subcortical connectivity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number111598
Number of pages10
JournalPsychiatry Research: Neuroimaging
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavioral control
  • Learned helplessness
  • vmPFC, Network analysis, fMRI


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