The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effects of psychological pressure on corticospinal excitability, the spinal reflex, lower limb muscular activity, and reaction times during a task involving dominant leg movements. Ten healthy participants performed a simple reaction time task by raising the heel of their dominant foot from a switch. After 20 practice trials, participants performed 20 non-pressure and 20 pressure trials in a counterbalanced order. A combination of pressure manipulations, including reward and penalty by monetary incentives, was used in the pressure trials. Stress responses were successfully induced, as indexed by significant increases in state anxiety, mental effort, and heart rates under pressure. Significant increases in motor evoked potential (MEP) amplitude of the tibialis anterior muscle (TA) occurred under pressure. In terms of task-related electromyography (EMG) amplitude, the co-contraction rate between the soleus (SOL) and TA muscles significantly increased along with SOL and TA EMG amplitudes under pressure. Hoffmann reflexes for SOL and reaction times did not change under pressure. These results indicate that corticospinal excitability and leg muscle-related EMG activity increase homogeneously during lower limb movements that are performed under psychological pressure.
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