Event Abstract

Approaching avoidance: asymmetries in reward and punishment processing

  • 1 UCL, Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit, United Kingdom
  • 2 UCL, Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, United Kingdom
  • 3 UCL, Medical School, United Kingdom
  • 4 Radboud University, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Netherlands
  • 5 Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany

In a Pavlovian conditioning setting, an animals responses do not affect the receipt of reinforcements. Yet, such classically conditioned stimuli (CSs) predictive of affective events have a strong tendency to elicit responses which are hard-wired; generally adaptive; and acquired over an evolutionary time-scale. Pavlovian behaviours can be seen as evolutionarily acquired policy generalizations and may explain many significant quirks of human behaviour, including impulsivity, framing effects, and even psychiatric disturbances including addictions and mood disorders. As such, they have been influential in both elucidating and complicating our understanding of the architecture of appetitive and aversive decision-making. A key lacuna in the data is that the various factors that emerge as being central in this evolving architecture have not been systematically tested. We provide such a test using a Pavlovian-Instrumental Transfer design in humans in which we carefully control: go vs nogo; approach vs withdrawal; individual differences in sensitivities to both rewards and punishments; the relationship between instrumental and Pavlovian expectations. Our first key finding is a highly significant (p=1e-5) interaction (see supplemental figure) between the affective valence of Pavlovian stimuli and actions. We show that approach actions are promoted by positive Pavlovian stimuli. In the first demonstration of conditioned suppression in humans, we also show that approach actions are inhibited by aversive Pavlovian stimuli. Most importantly, the same actions, with the same associated expectations, but instantiating withdrawal, are promoted by aversive Pavlovian stimuli, but not by appetitive ones. We show that a simple reinforcement learning model can capture these effects; and indeed verifies that they are robust to differences in subjects’ acquisition of the instrumental tasks. This indicates that generalization of values occurs not only in terms of an action’s associated value (the predicted reinforcement), as has long been reported in the PIT literature; rather, generalization also occurs in terms of the intrinsic affective qualities of actions. Our second key finding concerns the asymmetry between rewards and punishments in the instrumental learning phase. We find that, both when reinforcements are probabilistic and deterministics, subjects initially avoid, but then rapidly come to ignore punishments, coming to rely instead solely on rewards to guide their actions. We interpret this in terms of a fundamental informational asymmetry between rewards and punishments. Finally, we show that subjects’ a priori bias against withdrawal actions correlates positively with measures of both anxiety and depression. This is consistent with a previous prediction by us that disturbances in aversive Pavlovian behavioural systems may result in negative affective experiences necessary for the generation of a variety of cognitive constructs resulting in different mood disorders.

Conference: Computational and Systems Neuroscience 2010, Salt Lake City, UT, United States, 25 Feb - 2 Mar, 2010.

Presentation Type: Poster Presentation

Topic: Poster session II

Citation: Huys QJ, Cools R, Gölzer M, Friedel E, Dolan RJ, Heinz A and Dayan P (2010). Approaching avoidance: asymmetries in reward and punishment processing. Front. Neurosci. Conference Abstract: Computational and Systems Neuroscience 2010. doi: 10.3389/conf.fnins.2010.03.00179

Received: 03 Mar 2010; Published Online: 03 Mar 2010.

* Correspondence: Martin Gölzer, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany, martin.goelzer@charite.de

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