Learning Under Stress: A Thesis
In a mere 170 pages, I explore learning, stress, hormones, and psychiatry.
As a capstone of my undergraduate experience for my degree in Neurbiology/Psychology, I undertook significant literature research as well as an experiment. Through reviewing prior studies, I established that stress hormones are highly phylogenetically conservative and that their effects are correspondingly similar between species. In the case of learning, it appears that moderate and acute stress can accelerate learning while chronic stress impairs learning, leading to degeneration of the hippocampus as well as clinical unipolar depression.
To test this conclusion experimentally, I exposed approximately 100 goldfish to anxiolytics and/or cortisol before testing their ability to learn over the course of a month. Those goldfish that received Prozac performed significantly worse than normal fish, though better than a cortisol-exposed fish without Prozac. Those fish given Allopregnanolone (an endogenous anxiolytic that increases in the presence of neurotoxins such as Prozac) performed significantly better in the latter segments of the experiment.
by Jeremy David Evans, 2012