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Disruption in Pavlovian-Instrumental Transfer as a Function of Depression and Anxiety

Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment
Allison Metts, Inna Arnaudova, Lindsay Staples-Bradley, Michael Sun, Richard Zinbarg, Robin Nusslock, Kate M. Wassum, Michelle G. Craske
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The Pavlovian-Instrumental Transfer (PIT) paradigm examines probabilistic and reinforcement learning. Disruptions in mechanisms that mediate PIT (i.e., cues not triggering adaptive behaviors) are thought to be contributors to psychopathology, making the study of probabilistic and reinforcement learning clinically relevant. The current study evaluated an appetitive PIT effect and its relationship with symptom dimensions spanning depression and anxiety, with a particular focus on anhedonia. Forty young adults ranging in scores across dimensions of depression and anxiety symptoms completed the PIT paradigm and self-report symptom measures. The PIT paradigm consisted of three phases. The instrumental phase consisted of a contingent association in which participants squeezed a handgrip for monetary reward. The Pavlovian phase established a purely predictive association between three visual stimuli (CS + , CS-, baseline) and presence or absence of monetary reward. In the transfer phase, participants’ responses allowed for examination of whether motivational characteristics of Pavlovian predictors influenced the vigor of their handgrip squeezes (instrumental action), which were formerly independent of Pavlovian associations. Analyses revealed a baseline-reward PIT effect, whereby a reward-associated Pavlovian cue enhanced instrumental responding in the transfer phase. However, there were no significant differences between CS + and CS- or CS- and baseline cues, suggesting a disrupted interaction of Pavlovian and instrumental learning. Further, the appetitive PIT effect captured in this paradigm was not associated with anhedonia, fears, or general distress. Future work should investigate the influence of mood states using more specific appetitive PIT paradigms to further understanding of the implications of disrupted reflexive and instrumental responding.

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