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Browsing by Author "Erkkilä, Emma-Helka"

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  • Erkkilä, Emma-Helka (2022)
    Faculty: Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences Degree programme: Master’s Programme in Neuroscience Study track: Neuroscience Author: Emma-Helka Erkkilä Title: The brain physiology of stress and the effects of burnout on executive functions Level: Master’s thesis Month and year: 08/2022 Number of pages: 35 Keywords: executive functions, emotion, cognition, stress, burnout Supervisor or supervisors: Docent Kaisa Hartikainen and Lic.Med. Mia Pihlaja Where deposited: Helsinki University Library Additional information: Abstract: BACKGROUND- Burnout as a result of prolonged and excessive stress may impair higher order cognitive functions of the brain such as executive functions and their efficiency. This Master's thesis examines the effects of chronic stress on the brain, more specifically the effects of burnout on executive functions. The aim of this study was to specifically research the effects of burnout on executive and emotional functions and their interaction. The research was conducted at the Behavioral Neurology Research Unit, Tampere University Hospital as part of Sustainable Brain Health project funded by the European Social Fund. MATERIAL AND METHODS- 54 voluntary examinees of whom 51 were analyzed. The examinees were divided into two groups based on BBI-15 survey (27 suffering from burnout and 24 control subjects without burnout). The examinees performed a computer-based Executive reaction time (RT) test, during which a 64-channel electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded. In additions all examinees received alternating transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) and placebo stimulation. From the Executive RT test, we obtained objective measures reflecting the efficiency of executive functions (RT and total errors) and specific executive functions such as working memory, inhibition and attention. Additionally, the emotional stimulus included in the test enabled the assessment of the emotional functions and the interaction between emotional and executive functions. The EEG and tVNS results were not in the scope of this master’s thesis, and they will be reported later on. RESULTS- The results of this thesis are preliminary. Distinct positive correlation was observed between burnout assessment based on the BBI-15 survey and the results of the BRIEF-A self-report which measures the subjective experience of challenges in executive functions in daily life. There was no statistically significant (p<0.05) difference between the groups in RTs or errors made in the Executive function RT test. Instead, the groups differed on how the threatening emotional stimulus affected the accuracy of responses. Subjects suffering from burnout made less errors with a threatening emotional stimulus compared to a neutral stimulus and vice versa the control subjects made more errors with the threatening emotional stimulus compared to neutral. This difference was statistically significant (p=0,025). DISCUSSION- Challenges experienced in everyday executive functions were linked with burnout. However, RTs and errors in the Executive reaction time test did not correlate with the severity of the burnout nor were the self-evaluated problems in executive functions depicted in the test performance. Instead, the subjects suffering from burnout differed from the control group in how the threatening stimulus affected the accuracy of responses in the test. It is possible that the subjects suffering from burnout benefit from the increase in arousal caused by the threatening emotional stimulus which was shown as improved accuracy of responses when there was a threatening stimulus, whereas the control group's accuracy of responses was disrupted by the threatening stimulus. We speculate that if the control group’s baseline level of arousal was optimal then the threatening emotional stimulus may have increased arousal to suboptimal level causing decrease in performance. Subjectively experienced challenges in executive functions and objective changes in the interaction between emotions and the executive functions were observed in the study. In conclusion, burnout causes changes in executive functions.