Translational model of sign and goal tracking behaviors: Laboratory and ecological validation in a sample of non-psychiatric individuals

Proponente Cristina Ottaviani - Professore Associato
Sottosettore ERC del proponente del progetto
Componenti gruppo di ricerca
Componente Categoria
Marika Mauti Dottorando/Assegnista/Specializzando componente non strutturato del gruppo di ricerca
Marialuisa Martelli Componenti strutturati del gruppo di ricerca
Cristina Orsini Componenti strutturati del gruppo di ricerca

According to classical conditioning, when a conditioned stimulus (CS) is repeatedly paired with a unconditioned stimulus (US), it acquires predictive value and produce a conditioned response (CR). Preclinical evidence suggests, however, that there is considerable individual variation in the extent to which a CS acquires incentive salience, with some animals producing a response toward the reward cue (sign trackers; STs), while others showing more attraction for the location in which the reward is going to be presented (goal trackers; GTs). Notably, STs seem to be characterized by psychological features that are considered as risk factors for psychopathologies linked to difficulties in the control of the impulses. The present study aims to translate the ST/GT paradigm to humans, by using a Pavlovian Conditioning Task combined with autonomic and eye movement assessment to derive the two endophenotypes. Then, we will test whether individuals categorized as STs and GTs differ in terms of decision making (based on signal detection theory parameters), and daily attractiveness (assessed by self-report and heart rate variability; HRV) to signs (the smell of the morning coffee) and rewards (e.g., drinking it). We hypothesize that ST will be more likely to engage in model-free decisions. Given that Pavlovian processes are likely to occur outside conscious awareness, we expect increased HRV to the CS compared to the reward in STs, without differences in momentary self-reports. Lastly, we expect STs to be characterized by higher scores on questionnaires assessing difficulties in impulse control (e.g., obsessive-compulsive symptoms, substance use). If replicated in humans, the ST/GT paradigm has the potential to allow the early identification of those who are vulnerable to develop addictive disorders, in line with the call of precision psychiatry of increasing our understanding of mental health to ultimately reduce the gap between scientific innovation and clinical application.

SH4_3, LS5_8, LS5_5

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