Spatiotemporal Dynamics of Reward and Punishment Effects Induced By Associative Learning

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Wang H, Kleffner K, Carolan PL, Liotti M (2018) Spatiotemporal dynamics of reward and punishment effects induced by associative learning. PLoS ONE 13(11): e0199847. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0199847.

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While reward associative learning has been studied extensively across different species, punishment avoidance learning has received far less attention. Of particular interest is how the two types of learning change perceptual processing of the learned stimuli. We designed a task that required participants to learn the association of emotionally neutral images with reward, punishment, and no incentive value outcomes through trial-and-error. During learning, participants received monetary reward, neutral outcomes or avoided punishment by correctly identifying corresponding images. Results showed an early bias in favor of learning reward associations, in the form of higher accuracy and fewer trials needed to reach learning criterion. We subsequently assessed electrophysiological learning effects with a task in which participants viewed the stimuli with no feedback or reinforcement. Critically, we found modulation of two early event-related potential components for reward images: the frontocentral P2 (170–230 ms) and the anterior N2/Early Anterior Positivity (N2/EAP; 210–310 ms). We suggest that reward associations may change stimuli detection and incentive salience as indexed by P2 and N2/EAP. We also reported, on an exploratory basis, a late negativity with frontopolar distribution enhanced by punishment images.

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