Predictive but not emotional value of Pavlovian stimuli leads to pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer

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Reward-predictive stimuli augment instrumental reward-seeking in humans, an effect denoted Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer (PIT), but the role of differential reward value of these stimuli and of emotional conditioned responses in PIT remains unknown.

Fifty one participants experienced a Pavlovian phase that associated two stimuli with either 10p (CS10) or 50p (CS50). Next, participants underwent instrumental training for two responses reinforced with either 10p or 50p. Finally, the transfer phase continued as had instrumental training, now in the presence of the Pavlovian stimuli.

Participants were dichotomised as aware/unaware according to their expectancy awareness of the CS → outcome associations. Only aware participants demonstrated PIT (increased choice and number of responses on the 10p and 50p response key in the presence of CS10 and CS50 respectively), yet both aware and unaware groups rated the 50p stimulus as more pleasant than the 10p stimulus.

These findings suggest that expectancy of reward is necessary for PIT; however, emotional conditioned responses appear not sufficient to influence PIT. Future research should attempt to manipulate emotional conditioned responses in a PIT context, to test the sufficiency of reward expectancy in PIT.

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