Reinforcement Learning Models of Risky Choice and the Promotion of Risk-Taking by Losses Disguised as Wins in Rats
Risky decisions are inherently characterized by the potential to receive gains or incur losses, and these outcomes have distinct effects on subsequent decision-making. One important factor is that individuals engage in loss-chasing, in which the reception of a loss is followed by relatively increased risk-taking. Unfortunately, the mechanisms of loss-chasing are poorly understood, despite the potential importance for understanding pathological choice behavior. The goal of the present experiment was to illuminate the mechanisms governing individual differences in loss-chasing and risky-choice behaviors. Rats chose between a low-uncertainty outcome that always delivered a variable amount of reward and a high-uncertainty outcome that probabilistically delivered reward. Loss-processing and loss-chasing were assessed in the context of losses disguised as wins (LDWs), which are loss outcomes that are presented along with gain-related stimuli. LDWs have been suggested to interfere with adaptive decision-making in humans and thus potentially increase loss-making. Here, the rats presented with LDWs were riskier, in that they made more choices for the high-uncertainty outcome. A series of nonlinear models were fit to individual rats’ data to elucidate the possible psychological mechanisms that best account for individual differences in high-uncertainty choices and loss-chasing behaviors. The models suggested that the rats presented with LDWs were more prone to showing a stay bias following high-uncertainty outcomes compared to rats not presented with LDWs. These results collectively suggest that LDWs acquire conditioned reinforcement properties that encourage continued risk-taking and increase loss-chasing following previous high-risk decisions.