Public seminar series PsyNCog 2022-2023

Psychobehavioral mechanisms of reward seeking in an uncertain environment


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Dates
19 April 2023 - 2pm

Patrick Anselme (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
 

Psychobehavioral mechanisms of reward seeking in an uncertain environment

 

Obtaining rewards that are unpredictable in space and/or in time (uncertain) is one of the greatest challenges organisms have to take up in their environment. Most theories of foraging behavior have focused on the factors that control the approach to reward-predictive cues and the consumption of rewards, suggesting that organisms distribute their behavior in proportion to the expected reward rates. However, some findings report deviations from this “optimality” rule: When rewards are uncertain, organisms may favor unguaranteed outcomes through information seeking over immediate reward procurement. Costly information about an outcome may even be sought despite having no influence on the outcome to be delivered. Are deviations from the optimality rule non-adaptive? In which circumstances do they happen? And can they be responsible for misbehaviors such as pathological gambling in humans? I show that, in an uncertain environment, organisms, including humans, are willing to spend time and effort seeking information about where, when, and how to find consistent cue-reward pairings rather than obtaining immediate reward. This strategy can compensate for the lack of cognitive control and be adaptive in the long run. Deviations from the optimality rule may lead to pathological gambling in modern humans because of the discrepancies between our consumerist societies and the environment in which our ancestors evolved.

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