The inverse relationship between acute stress and decision-making is well documented, but few studies have investigated the impact of chronic stress. Jockeys work exhaustive schedules and have extremely dangerous occupations, with safe performance requiring quick reaction time and accurate decision-making. We used the effort reward imbalance (ERI) occupational stress model to assess the relationship of work stress with indices of stress physiology and decision-making and reaction time. Jockeys (N=32) completed computerised cognitive tasks (Cogstate) on two occasions; September and November (naturally occurring lower and higher stress periods), either side of an acute stress test. Higher ERI was correlated with the cortisol awakening responses (high stress r=-0.37; low stress r=0.36), and with decrements in decision-making comparable to having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 in the high stress period (p<0.001) The LF/HF ratio of heart rate variability impacted the association of ERI with decision-making. Potentially, this may be attributed to a ‘tipping point’ whereby the higher ERI reported by jockeys in the high stress period decreases vagal tone, which may contribute to reduced decision-making abilities.
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