Impact of Situational Threat on the Behavioral Activation System

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Previous research has indicated that individuals respond differently to difficult tasks, depending on whether the situational factors surrounding the task make the individual perceive it as a challenge or a threat. Distinct response patterns between these two stress responses have been identified and vary based on an individual’s personality traits. In keeping with this research, the current study examined how performance pressure-induced threat impacts the relationship between trait approach motivation and prefrontal cortex activation utilizing a simple line bisection task. Participants completed line bisection tasks before and after performing a difficult motor skill task under pressure intended to provoke a threat-based response. As expected, individuals with high levels of trait approach motivation showed a rightward line bisection bias at pretest absent in participants with low levels of trait approach motivation. However, in contrast to previous studies utilizing more challenge-based tasks that report consistent rightward line bisection bias in high approach motivation populations, the current study identified a shift towards a leftward line bisection bias after the study task. The results suggest that the inability to succeed under pressure caused high trait approach participants to temporarily lose their approach orientation due to threat response.

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Personality and Individual Differences

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