Motivational state controls the prediction error in Pavlovian appetitive-aversive interactions

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Abstract

Contemporary theories of learning emphasize the role of a prediction error signal in driving learning, but the nature of this signal remains hotly debated. Here, we used Pavlovian conditioning in rats to investigate whether primary motivational and emotional states interact to control prediction error. We initially generated cues that positively or negatively predicted an appetitive food outcome. We then assessed how these cues modulated aversive conditioning when a novel cue was paired with a foot shock. We found that a positive predictor of food enhances, whereas a negative predictor of that same food impairs, aversive conditioning. Critically, we also showed that the enhancement produced by the positive predictor is removed by reducing the value of its associated food. In contrast, the impairment triggered by the negative predictor remains insensitive to devaluation of its associated food. These findings provide compelling evidence that the motivational value attributed to a predicted food outcome can directly control appetitive-aversive interactions and, therefore, that motivational processes can modulate emotional processes to generate the final error term on which subsequent learning is based.

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