Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Physiological and Behavioral Signatures of Reflective Exploratory Choice

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Physiological and Behavioral Signatures of Reflective Exploratory Choice

Article excerpt

Published online: 25 March 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Physiological arousal, a marker of emotional re- sponse, has been demonstrated to accompany human decision making imder uncertainty. Anticipatory emotions have been portrayed as basic and rapid evaluations of chosen actions. Instead, could these arousal signals stem from a "cognitive" assessment of value that utilizes the full environment structure, as opposed to merely signaling a coarse, reflexive assessment of the possible consequences of choices? Combining an explora- tion-exploitation task, computational modeling, and skin con- ductance measurements, we find that physiological arousal manifests a reflective assessment of the benefit of the chosen action, mirroring observed behavior. Consistent with the level of computational sophistication evident in these signals, a follow- up experiment demonstrates that anticipatory arousal is modu- lated by current environment volatility, in accordance with the predictions of our computational accoimt. Finally, we examine the cognitive costs of the exploratory choice behavior these arousal signals accompany by manipulating concurrent cogni- tive demand. Taken together, these results demonstrate that the arousal that accompanies choice under uncertainty arises from a more reflective and "cognitive" assessment of the chosen ac- tion's consequences than has been revealed previously.

Keywords Decision-making · Reward · Reinforcement learning · Emotion · Arousal

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)


Emotional response and its concomitant peripheral autonomic response play a central role in the way people manage decisions under uncertainty in a variety of task contexts (Critchley, 2005; Dolan, 2002; Eigner, Mackinlay, Wilkening, & Weber, 2009; Meilers, Schwartz, Ho, & Ritov, 1997). For example, in the context of decision making, people exhibit arousal, measured by skin conductance responses (SCRs; Öhman & Soares, 1994) just prior to choices carrying potential monetary losses (Bechara, Tranel, Damasio, & Damasio, 1996; Suzuki, Hirota, Takasawa, & Shigemasu, 2003) or future cognitive costs (Botvinick & Rosen, 2009), suggesting that these arousal signals reflect, in some form, an evaluation of a chosen action's goodness.

Although previous work has considered the causal role of autonomic arousal in choice under uncertainty (Bechara et al., 1996; Damasio, 1994; but see Dunn, Dalgleish, & Lawrence, 2006; Tomb, Hauser, Deldin, & Caramazza, 2002; Whitney, Hinson, Wirick, & Holben, 2007), little work has endeavored to characterize the processes generating these arousal signals. In this report, we utilize the framework of reinforcement learning (RL; Sutton & Bario, 1998) to provide a computationally informed examination of how insightful these signals are.

Affective research has often portrayed these anticipatory emotions as basic and rapid evaluations of the options facing a decision-maker-possibly facilitating rapid action-in contrast to a "cognitive" evaluation of a course of action (Ledoux, 1996; Loewenstein, Weber, Hsee, & Welch, 2001; Zajonc, 1984). Could these emotional responses instead stem from a reflective and intelligent decision-making system, as opposed to a simpler, reflexive decision process? Indeed, work in the domain of aversive Pavlovian conditioning has demonstrated how causal knowledge and more explicit, "cognitive" information can pro- duce anticipatory arousal responses (Lovibond, 2003; Ois son & Phelps, 2004). Here, we evaluate the possibility that SCRs accompanying choice register planning-oriented value calcula- tions utilizing environment structure and evolving uncertainty, in contrast to merely signaling a coarse calculation of the pos- sible consequences resulting from the choice made.

Answering these questions is critical to understanding the nature of interactions between cognition and emotion. …

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