Title: The Influence of Motivation on Emotion Regulation and Motor Performance: Examination of a Neuro-Affective Model
Advisor: Dr. Bradley Hatfield
Abstract: Mental stress is known to disrupt the execution of motor performance and can lead to decrements in the quality of performance, however, individuals have shown significant differences regarding how fast and well they can perform a skilled task according to how well they can manage stress and emotion. The purpose of this study was to advance our understanding of how the brain modulates emotional reactivity under different motivational states to achieve differential performance in a target shooting task that requires precision visuomotor coordination. In order to study the interactions in emotion regulatory brain areas (i.e. the ventral striatum, amygdala, prefrontal cortex) and the autonomic nervous system, reward and punishment interventions were employed and the resulting behavioral and physiological responses contrasted to observe the changes in shooting performance (i.e. shooting accuracy and stability of aim) and neuro-cognitive processes (i.e. cognitive load and reserve) during the shooting task. Thirty-five participants, aged 18 to 38 years, from the Reserve Officers’ Training Corp (ROTC) at the University of Maryland were recruited to take 30 shots at a bullseye target in three different experimental conditions. In the reward condition, $1 was added to their total balance for every 10-point shot. In the punishment condition, $1 was deducted from their total balance if they did not hit the 10-point area. In the neutral condition, no money was added or deducted from their total balance. When in the reward condition, which was reportedly most enjoyable and least stressful of the conditions, heart rate variability was found to be positively related to shooting scores, inversely related to variability in shooting performance and positively related to alpha power (i.e. less activation) in the left temporal region. In the punishment (and most stressful) condition, an increase in sympathetic response (i.e. increased LF/HF ratio) was positively related to jerking movements as well as variability of placement (on the target) in the shots taken. This, coupled with error monitoring activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, suggests evaluation of self-efficacy might be driving arousal regulation, thus affecting shooting performance. Frontal asymmetry measures revealed possible influence of the prefrontal lobe in driving this effect in reward and neutral conditions. The possible interactions, reasons behind these findings and implications are discussed.