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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Shiyao Zhang

PhD Student



Project Title: The protective role of acute exercise on stress induced social behavior changes


Individuals’ good social behavior can lead to positive, supportive, intimate social relationships, which have been shown to have beneficial effects on general health, and in particular for maintaining psychological health. However, social interaction itself can be stressful especially when encountering aggression, under dynamic social hierarchies, involving ambiguity, etc. Stress can then affect social cognition both physiologically and psychologically and lead changes in social behavior. in previous work investigating this, some studies showed more prosocial behavior after acute stress induction while others found increased outgroup-hostile behavior and reduced trust. Further, research aimed at identifying methods to relief stress have found exercise to play a key role.

Exercise can bring about many physiological changes which result in an improvement in mood state, self-esteem and lower stress and anxiety levels. Many studies have found exercise as an effective intervention for negative consequences in stressful circumstances, with lower systolic, diastolic, and mean blood pressure reactivity in response to stressor tasks. However, studies on the effect of exercise on social cognition and behavior under stress are most focused on groups suffering from psychological disorders, since the effects of them were reported to be stronger compared to the normal groups. Moreover, different exercise strategies were applied to participants leading to a lack of consistent results on specific exercise types. The link between exercise and social behavior under stress has not been studied yet.

In this project, acute stress will be induced in mentally healthy groups after different sets of acute exercise training. Blood pressure and blood pressure reactivity will be measured as physiological factors and the Fight-or-Escape Paradigm will be used to measure social avoidance, and aggressive responses to interpersonal provocation.

The limitations of human experiments make it difficult to study the effects of different types of stress on organisms at different developmental stages. Further study will be done on zebrafish, focusing on long-term stress, stress during different developmental stages and epigenetic changes under stress to explore the effect on social behavior and whether exercise can play a protective role.

Together, these studies will help us better understand the relationship between exercise and social behavior under stress.



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