Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Thesis defense Verena Ly (Donders series 209)

19 February 2016

Promotors: prof. dr. Karin Roelofs, prof. dr. Roshan Cools

Affective biasing of instrumental action: How emotion shapes behavior

Affect has long been postulated to be crucial for survival. It can facilitate our instrumental (or outcome-oriented) decisions, which is particularly relevant in complex and uncertain situations. At the same time, we all know too well that affective biases can also impair instrumental behavior. In fact, abnormal affective influences on behavior have been proposed to contribute to a variety of (social) behavioral anomalies and psychiatric disorders. It is of great importance to gain more insight in mechanisms underlying normal and abnormal affective influences on behavior to have a better understanding of behavioral deficits and ultimately provide better treatment for these deficits. Yet it remains unknown how affect can bias instrumental decisions. According to literature on multiple behavioral control systems, these processes involve interactions between Pavlovian and instrumental behavioral control systems. Verena Ly investigated the role of these Pavlovian and instrumental control systems and their interaction in the affective biasing of behavior in a social emotional context. Her work demonstrates the power of the Pavlovian response and its impact on instrumental behavior. Moreover, she has shown that the different behavioral control systems may interact at the level of motivational valence. Furthermore, she has demonstrated the relevance of Pavlovian-instrumental interactions for different social behavioral deficits, such as social avoidance and instrumental aggression. Future research is needed to elucidate the precise mechanisms by which affect influences decision making. Ultimately, this knowledge acquisition would help us to better understand affective biases of behavior; and could serve as an empirical basis for the development of better treatment for psychiatric disorders.