Being confronted with social-evaluative stress elicits a physiological and a psychological stress response. This calls for regulatory processes to manage negative affect and maintain self-related optimistic beliefs. The aim of the current study was to investigate the affect-regulating potential of self-related belief updating after exposure to social-evaluative stress, in comparison to non-social physical stress or no stress. We assessed self-related belief updating using trial-by-trial performance feedback and described the updating behavior in a mechanistic way using computational modeling. We found that social-evaluative stress was accompanied by an increase in cortisol and negative affect which was related to a shift in self-related belief updating towards the positive direction. This self-beneficial belief updating, which was absent after physical stress or control, was associated with a better recovery from stress-induced negative affect. This indicates that enhanced integration of positive self-related feedback can act as a coping strategy to deal with social-evaluative stress.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience