Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Evaluation of a Novel Translational Task for Assessing Emotional Biases in Different Species

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Evaluation of a Novel Translational Task for Assessing Emotional Biases in Different Species

Article excerpt

Published online: 20 December 2011

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2011

Abstract Changes in the processing of emotional information are key features of affective disorders. Neuropsychological tests based on emotional faces or words are used to detect emotional/affective biases in humans, but these tests are not applicable to animal species. In the present study, we investigated whether a novel affective tone discrimination task (ATDT), developed to study emotion-related behaviour in rats, could also be used to quantify changes in affective states in humans. To date, the methods used in human neuropsychology have not been applicable to animal experiments. Participants completed a training session in which they learnt to discriminate specific tone frequencies and to correctly respond in order to gain emotionally valenced outcomes, to obtain rewards (money), or to avoid punishment (an aversive sound clip). During a subsequent test session, additional ambiguous probe tones were presented at frequencies intermediate between the reward and avoidance paired tones. At the end of the task, participants completed self-report questionnaires. All participants made more avoidance responses to the most ambiguous tone cues, suggesting a bias towards avoidance of punishment. Individual differences in the degrees of bias observed were correlated with anxiety measures, suggesting the task's sensitivity to differences in state anxiety within a healthy population. Further studies in clinical populations will be necessary to assess the task's sensitivity to pathological anxiety states. These data suggest that this affective tone discrimination task provides a novel method to study cognitive affective biases in different species, including humans, and offers a novel assessment to study anxiety.

Keywords Anxiety . Translation . Healthy volunteer . Cognitive affective bias . Emotion

Investigating the neurobiology and treatment of complex psychiatric disorders is often limited by the translational validity of the available animal models. In relation to affective disorders, these issues represent a major hurdle to understanding disease pathologies and to the development of novel drug treatments (Frazer & Morilak, 2005; McArthur & Borsini, 2006). Recent studies have suggested that it is feasible to quantify emotion-related behaviours in animals (Enkel et al., 2010; Harding, Paul, & Mendl, 2004; Paul, Harding, & Mendl, 2005; Torres et al., 2005). Cognitive processes such as attention, memory, and judgment have been shown to be biased by underlying affective state (Leppänen, 2006). These biases are theorised to alter the interpretation of ambiguous stimuli and, in depression and anxiety, to cause disproportionate encoding and retrieval of negative stimuli (Gotlib, Ranganath, & Rosenfeld, 1998). Neuropsychological tests of emotional processing almost exclusively utilise stimuli-for instance, facial images or words-that cannot be used with nonhuman animals. On the basis of the same neurocognitive theories that underpin these methods, but working with dimensions that are not species specific, cognitive affective biases have been demonstrated in a number of animal species (Brilot, Asher, & Bateson, 2010; Brydges, Leach, Nicol, Wright, & Bateson, 2011; Doyle et al., 2011; Salmeto et al., 2011).

Affective biases have been shown to alter performance to emotionally valenced stimuli in human neuropsychological tasks such as the emotional go/no-go, facial recognition, and attention and memory recall paradigms (Bradley, Mogg, & Millar, 1996; Chamberlain & Sahakian, 2006; Elliott, Rubinsztein, Sahakian, & Dolan, 2002; Elliott, Zahn, Deakin, & Anderson, 2011; Erickson et al., 2005; Leppänen, Milders, Bell, Terriere, & Hietanen, 2004; Mitterschiffthaler et al., 2008; Mogg, Bradley, Millar, & White, 1995; Mogg, Bradley, Williams, & Mathews, 1993; Murphy et al., 1999). Anxiety and depression are often comorbid conditions, however; results from these types of tasks suggest that anxiety is generally associated with biases in attention to threat-related or negative information, whilst depression is associated with memory and interpretation biases (for reviews, see Bar-Haim, Lamy, & Glickman, 2005; Harmer, Shelley, Cowen, & Goodwin, 2004; Mathews & MacLeod, 2005; Mogg & Bradley, 2002; Wright & Bower, 1992). …

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