C.J. Thomson, M.A. Rastad, M.B. Gaetz

University of the Fraser Valley, Chilliwack, BC Canada

In recent years there has been a great interest in the effects of exercise on cognition, but few have looked at whether physical activity influences risk taking. Exercise increases levels of circulating cortisol and dopamine, both of which have been linked to risk-taking. Exercise has been considered an outlet for impulsive cravings (e.g., through distraction or stimulation of reward pathways), but whether acute exercise actually attenuates or increases risk taking is largely unknown. PURPOSE: To investigate the effects of an acute bout of vigorous exercise on factors related to decision-making, including risk taking, reward sensitivity, punishment sensitivity, and behavioural inhibition. METHODS: Healthy (free of psychological or neurological conditions), moderately active males and females (n = 20, 50% females, mean age = 22.4 years, sd = 2.48) performed either a 30-minute bout of cycling at 60% of their maximal power output (determined at baseline) or watched a neutral film. Participants provided saliva samples to measure cortisol pre- and post-intervention for both the neutral and exercise conditions. Following the intervention, participants completed a series of computerized behavioural tasks: the balloon-analogue risk task (BART), the risky gains task, and the STOP-it task. The study employed a repeated measures, crossover design. RESULTS: There was a significant increase in cortisol (m ± SD: 13.39 ± 21.41 ug/dL,p= .013) following the exercise intervention, and a significant decrease in cortisol (-6.11 ± 7.41 ug/dL; p=.002) following the neutral intervention. There were no significant main effects for any of the behavioural tasks, all p> .05. There was a significant interaction between order and condition for the BART (both average and adjusted total balloon pumps, P< .05). The second time performing the BART (regardless of condition) resulted in fewer total pumps (or decreased risk taking). CONCLUSION: Acute exercise did not influence risk taking in the current sample. It may be beneficial to include a practice session of behavioural tasks (namely, the BART) at baseline to decrease the impact of any practice effect.

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