The shift in political climate after the 2016 U.S. presidential election had a distressing effect on many individuals. To date, no research has identified how changes in societal-level distressing experiences affected ongoing neurobiological and psychological functioning. Fifty-five participants (Mage = 21.746, 37 women) were tested at two time points. fMRI and psychological measures were used to test the hypotheses that increases in distress over 1 year would relate to worsening mental health symptomology and blunted neurobiological response to reward during the same period. Because individual experiences of distress occurred within a larger macroclimate of societal attitudes, measures were standardized to reflect relative change within the sample. Distress changes over 1 year were positively associated with problematic mental health symptomology and nucleus accumbens (NAcc) response to reward, with dissociable effects for anticipation and outcome. Worsening distress was associated with increased NAcc response to reward anticipation but decreased NAcc response to reward outcome. Individuals who exhibited increased sensitivity to anticipatory reward were those who exhibited more avoidance distress symptoms, whereas intrusion and hyperarousal were associated with decreased sensitivity to reward outcome. This study highlights the importance of considering individual variation in profiles of change in response to ongoing distress, suggests that individual response styles yield differences in reward sensitivity, and extends neurobiological understanding of exposure to stressful life experiences to political events.

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