A neural and behavioral trade-off between value and uncertainty underlies exploratory decisions in normative anxiety

Kristoffer C Aberg, Ido Toren, Rony Paz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Exploration reduces uncertainty about the environment and improves the quality of future decisions, but at the cost of provisional uncertain and suboptimal outcomes. Although anxiety promotes intolerance to uncertainty, it remains unclear whether and by which mechanisms anxiety relates to exploratory decision-making. We use a dynamic three-armed-bandit task and find that higher trait-anxiety is associated with increased exploration, which in turn harms overall performance. We identify two distinct behavioral sources: first, decisions made by anxious individuals are guided toward reduction of uncertainty; and second, decisions are less guided by immediate value gains. These findings are similar in both loss and gain domains, and further demonstrate that an affective trait relates to exploration and results in an inverse-U-shaped relationship between anxiety and overall performance. Additional imaging data (fMRI) suggests that normative anxiety correlates negatively with the representation of expected-value in the dorsal-anterior-cingulate-cortex, and in contrast, positively with the representation of uncertainty in the anterior-insula. We conclude that a trade-off between value-gains and uncertainty-reduction entails maladaptive decision-making in individuals with higher normal-range anxiety.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1573-1587
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Volume27
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2021

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