Andreatta, Marta
Emotional Reactions after Event Learning [Tesi di dottorato]

In order to survive, organisms avoid threats and seek rewards. Classical conditioning is a simple model to explain how animals and humans learn associations between events that allow them to predict threats and rewards efficiently. In the classical conditioning paradigm, a neutral stimulus is paired with a biologically significant event (the unconditioned stimulus – US). In virtue of this association, the neutral stimulus acquires affective motivational properties, and becomes a conditioned stimulus (CS+). Defensive responses emerge for pairings with an aversive US (e.g., pain), and appetitive responses emerge for pairing with an appetitive event (e.g., reward). It has been observed that animals avoid a CS+ when it precedes an aversive US during a training phase (CS+ ? US; forward conditioning); whereas they approach a CS+ when it follows an aversive US during the training phase (US ? CS+; backward conditioning). These findings indicate that the CS+ acquires aversive properties after a forward conditioning, whereas acquires appetitive properties after a backward conditioning. It is thus of interest whether event timing also modulates conditioned responses in such an opponent fashion in humans, who are capable of explicit cognition about the associations. For this purpose, four experiments were conducted in which a discriminative conditioning was applied in groups of participants that only differed in the temporal sequence between CS+ onset and US onset (i.e., the interstimulus interval – ISI). During the acquisition phase (conditioning), two simple geometrical shapes were presented as conditioned stimuli. One shape (CS+) was always associated with a mild painful electric shock (i.e., the aversive US) and the other one (CS-) was never associated with the shock. In a between-subjects design, participants underwent either forward or backward conditioning. During the test phase (extinction), emotional responses to CS+ and CS- were tested and the US was never presented. Additionally, a novel neutral shape (NEW) was presented as control stimulus. To assess cognitive components, participants had to rate both the valence (the degree of unpleasantness or pleasantness) and the arousal (the degree of calmness or excitation) associated with the shapes before and after conditioning. In the first study, startle responses, an ancestral defensive reflex consisting of a fast twitch of facial and body muscles evoked by sudden and intense stimuli, was measured as an index of stimulus implicit valence. Startle amplitude was potentiated in the presence of the forward CS+ whilst attenuated in the presence of the backward CS+. Respectively, the former response indicates an implicit negative valence of the CS+ and an activation of the defensive system; the latter indicated an implicit positive valence of the CS+ and an activation of the appetitive system. In the second study, the blood-oxygen level dependent (BOLD) response was measured by means of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate neural responses after event learning. Stronger amygdala activation in response to forward CS+ and stronger striatum activation in response to backward CS+ were found in comparison to CS-. These results support the notion that the defensive motivational system is activated after forward conditioning since the amygdala plays a crucial role in fear acquisition and expression. Whilst the appetitive motivational system is activated after backward conditioning since the striatum plays a crucial role in reward processing. In the third study, attentional processes underlying event learning were observed by means of steady-state visual evoked potentials (ssVEPs). This study showed that both forward and backward CS+ caught attentional resources. More specifically, ssVEP amplitude was higher during the last seconds of forward CS+ that is just before the US, but during the first seconds of backward CS+ that is just after the US. Supposedly, attentional processes were located at the most informative part of CS+ in respect to the US. Participants of all three studies rated both forward and backward CS+ more negative and arousing compared to the CS-. This indicated that event timing did not influence verbal reports similarly as the neural and behavioral responses indicating a dissociation between the explicit and implicit responses. Accordingly, dual process theories propose that human behavior is determined by the output of two systems: (1) an impulsive implicit system that works on associative principles, and (2) a reflective explicit system that functions on the basis of knowledge about facts and values. Most importantly, these two systems can operate in a synergic or antagonistic fashion. Hence, the three studies of this thesis congruently suggest that the impulsive and the reflective systems act after backward association in an antagonistic fashion. In sum, event timing may turn punishment into reward in humans even though they subjectively rate the stimulus associated with aversive events as being aversive. This dissociation might contribute to understand psychiatric disorders, like anxiety disorders or drug addiction.

In relazione con
M-PSI/02 - Psicobiologia e psicologia fisiologica

Tesi di dottorato. | Lingua: | Paese: | BID: TD13053402