About this Research Topic
Preferential reward processing is the hallmark of addiction, where salient cues become overvalued and trigger compulsion. In depression, and disorders where anhedonia prevails, rewards appear to lose their incentive properties or become devalued. This stems from deficient reward learning, inflexible reward value computation or attenuated responding in reward neuro-circuitry. Addicted people thus find it hard to forget the pleasure associated with past rewards whereas depressed people find it difficult to remember pleasures past. Addiction has been recently portrayed by computational models as a state of compromised valuation, whereby faulty prediction error signals alter the value assigned to future and continued drug use. Further, in eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, the rewards associated with the anticipation and consummation of food appear to be discounted, often in the context of anhedonia. Whether potentiated as in addiction, or attenuated in depressive disorders, reward processing can become increasingly habitual or automatic. This raises the question of cognitive control, a core theme of this Topic. Empirical and theoretical contributions are expected to:
*Explore new avenues of research by investigating the processing of rewards at the cognitive, behavioural, motivational, neural systems and individual difference levels.
*Promote greater understanding and development of emergent therapeutic approaches such as cognitive bias modification and behavioural approach or avoidance training. A key question is the feasibility of reversing or modifying patterns of reward processing to therapeutic ends.
*Refine and augment the evidential database for tried and tested therapies such as Contingency Management and Behavioural Activation by focusing on core cognitive processes mediating rewards.
*Provide a potential dimensional approach for reward processing deficits that can be of trans-diagnostic importance in clinically relevant disorders, including depression and addiction
The focus on cognitive control has the potential to facilitate the wider application of experimental findings as self-regulation skills measured or practiced in the laboratory can be deployed as part of a therapeutic intervention. The dynamics of goal maintenance or representations of reward in working memory, for instance, is an area which could inform the practice of cognitive behavioural therapy. Temporal discounting of future rewards, whereby smaller, more immediate rewards are chosen even when significantly more valuable deferred rewards are available, is another trans-diagnosticŽ phenomenon in the present context. This discounting of future reward is thought to reflect compulsion in the addictive context and hopelessness on the part of people experiencing depression. Empirical findings, theoretical contributions or commentaries bearing on this process would be a welcome contribution to this Topic.
Finally, alterations in reward processing have also been observed in offspring of depressed mothers. This suggests that aberrant reward processing could be a mediator or biomarker of genetic or environmental risk to the onset and maintenance of depression, as indeed it is a plausible candidate variable indexing transgenerational liability to addiction. Submissions bearing on genetic, epigenetic and neurodevelopmental aspects of reward processing are also encouraged.
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