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The Computational, Pharmacological, and Physiological Determinants of Sensory Learning under Uncertainty

Lawson, RP; Bisby, J; Nord, CL; Burgess, N; Rees, G; (2020) The Computational, Pharmacological, and Physiological Determinants of Sensory Learning under Uncertainty. Current Biology 10.1016/j.cub.2020.10.043. (In press). Green open access

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Abstract

The ability to represent and respond to uncertainty is fundamental to human cognition and decision-making. Noradrenaline (NA) is hypothesized to play a key role in coordinating the sensory, learning, and physiological states necessary to adapt to a changing world, but direct evidence for this is lacking in humans. Here, we tested the effects of attenuating noradrenergic neurotransmission on learning under uncertainty. We probed the effects of the β-adrenergic receptor antagonist propranolol (40 mg) using a between-subjects, double-blind, placebo-controlled design. Participants performed a probabilistic associative learning task, and we employed a hierarchical learning model to formally quantify prediction errors about cue-outcome contingencies and changes in these associations over time (volatility). Both unexpectedness and noise slowed down reaction times, but propranolol augmented the interaction between these main effects such that behavior was influenced more by prior expectations when uncertainty was high. Computationally, this was driven by a reduction in learning rates, with people slower to update their beliefs in the face of new information. Attenuating the global effects of NA also eliminated the phasic effects of prediction error and volatility on pupil size, consistent with slower belief updating. Finally, estimates of environmental volatility were predicted by baseline cardiac measures in all participants. Our results demonstrate that NA underpins behavioral and computational responses to uncertainty. These findings have important implications for understanding the impact of uncertainty on human biology and cognition.

Type: Article
Title: The Computational, Pharmacological, and Physiological Determinants of Sensory Learning under Uncertainty
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.10.043
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.10.043
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © 2020 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Keywords: Bayesian, anxiety, blood pressure, cardiac, computational modeling, learning, noradrenaline, perception, pupillometry, uncertainty
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Division of Psychiatry
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology > Clinical and Experimental Epilepsy
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10116328
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