Imaging stress: an overview of stress induction methods in the MR scanner

  • Hannes NoackEmail author
  • Leandra Nolte
  • Vanessa Nieratschker
  • Ute Habel
  • Birgit Derntl
Psychiatry and Preclinical Psychiatric Studies - Review Article


Processing of acute stress has potential implications for mental and physical health. At the same time, individuals differ largely in how strongly they react to stress. Neuroimaging paradigms have been developed to characterize the neural underpinnings of the stress response in general and to understand the mechanisms that differentiate high and low susceptible individuals. The goal of the present review was to summarize the current literature on psychosocial stress in the brain imaging environment. That is, we focused on the most common neuroimaging paradigms that have been used to induce acute stress and map out the questions that have been addressed with respect to the determinants, the consequences, and the processing of stress. We identified four major paradigms that have been used with different scientific aims. The Montreal Imaging Stress Test and the ScanSTRESS involve cognitive challenge and social-evaluative threat and yielded a stress-related network including most significantly the perigenual ACC, the hippocampus, and the amygdala. The social-evaluative threat paradigm was used to predict the autonomic stress response on the basis of multivariate pattern analysis. The aversive video paradigm, on the other hand, was mainly used to investigate the consequences of stress on emotional and cognitive processes and their neural correlates. We conclude our review with a critical evaluation of methodological and conceptual issues in the study of the neural correlates of acute stress.


Stress Cortisol Fmri Hippocampus PgACC 



We thank Maxi Bürkle and Melina Grahlow for their support in collecting the references and making the figure. This research was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG; DE 2319/6-1 awarded to BD, UH, and VN).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Austria, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Medical SchoolUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and PsychosomaticsFaculty of Medicine, RWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  3. 3.Werner Reichardt Centre for Integrative NeuroscienceUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany
  4. 4.Lead Graduate SchoolUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany
  5. 5.JARA Institute of Brain Structure Function Relationship Institute for Neuroscience and Medicine (INM10), Forschungszentrum JülichJülichGermany

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