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Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer after human threat conditioning


Xia, Yanfang; Gurkina, Angelina; Bach, Dominik R (2019). Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer after human threat conditioning. Learning & memory (Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.), 26(5):167-175.

Abstract

Threat conditioning is a common associative learning model with translational relevance. How threat-conditioned cues impact on formally unrelated instrumental behavior in humans is not well known. Such an effect is known as Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer (PIT). While PIT with aversive primary Pavlovian reinforcers is established in nonhuman animals, this is less clear in humans, where secondary reinforcers or instructed instrumental responses are most often investigated. We modified an existing human PIT procedure to include primary reinforcers. Participants first learned to obtain (or avoid losing) appetitive instrumental reinforcement (chocolate) by appropriate approach or avoidance actions. They either had to act (Go) or to withhold an action (NoGo), and in the Go condition either to approach a reward target to collect it or to withdraw from the reward target to avoid losing it. Then they learned to associate screen color (CS) with aversive Pavlovian reinforcement (electric shock US). In the transfer phase, we conducted the instrumental task during the presence of Pavlovian CS. In a first experiment, we show that the aversive Pavlovian CS+, compared to CS−, increased response rate in Go-Withdraw trials, i.e., induce conditioned facilitation of avoidance responses. This finding was confirmed in a second and independent experiment with an increased number of Go-Withdraw trials. Notably, we observed no appreciable conditioned suppression of approach responses. Effect size to distinguish CS+/CS− in Go-Withdraw trials was d = 0.42 in the confirmation sample. This would require n = 37 participants to demonstrate threat learning with 80% power. Thus, the effect size is on a practically useful scale although smaller than for model-based analysis of autonomic measures. In summary, our results indicate conditioned facilitation of formally unrelated instrumental avoidance behavior in humans and provide a novel behavioral threat learning measure that requires only key presses.

Abstract

Threat conditioning is a common associative learning model with translational relevance. How threat-conditioned cues impact on formally unrelated instrumental behavior in humans is not well known. Such an effect is known as Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer (PIT). While PIT with aversive primary Pavlovian reinforcers is established in nonhuman animals, this is less clear in humans, where secondary reinforcers or instructed instrumental responses are most often investigated. We modified an existing human PIT procedure to include primary reinforcers. Participants first learned to obtain (or avoid losing) appetitive instrumental reinforcement (chocolate) by appropriate approach or avoidance actions. They either had to act (Go) or to withhold an action (NoGo), and in the Go condition either to approach a reward target to collect it or to withdraw from the reward target to avoid losing it. Then they learned to associate screen color (CS) with aversive Pavlovian reinforcement (electric shock US). In the transfer phase, we conducted the instrumental task during the presence of Pavlovian CS. In a first experiment, we show that the aversive Pavlovian CS+, compared to CS−, increased response rate in Go-Withdraw trials, i.e., induce conditioned facilitation of avoidance responses. This finding was confirmed in a second and independent experiment with an increased number of Go-Withdraw trials. Notably, we observed no appreciable conditioned suppression of approach responses. Effect size to distinguish CS+/CS− in Go-Withdraw trials was d = 0.42 in the confirmation sample. This would require n = 37 participants to demonstrate threat learning with 80% power. Thus, the effect size is on a practically useful scale although smaller than for model-based analysis of autonomic measures. In summary, our results indicate conditioned facilitation of formally unrelated instrumental avoidance behavior in humans and provide a novel behavioral threat learning measure that requires only key presses.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich > Clinic for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
Life Sciences > Cognitive Neuroscience
Life Sciences > Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
Uncontrolled Keywords:Cognitive Neuroscience, Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience, Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
Language:English
Date:1 May 2019
Deposited On:18 Feb 2020 13:26
Last Modified:29 Jul 2020 14:34
Publisher:Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press
ISSN:1072-0502
OA Status:Hybrid
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1101/lm.049338.119
PubMed ID:31004041

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