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Title: Emotion-based learning : an experimental and clinical investigation
Author: Cella, Matteo
Awarding Body: Swansea University
Current Institution: Swansea University
Date of Award: 2009
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Emotion-based learning has emerged as a concept referring to a specific class of learning in uncertain situations that is facilitated by a substantial input from the emotion system. The precise nature of this input, however, remains a controversial and wellstudied topic. The present thesis builds on existing emotion-based learning research and investigates several understudied and novel research questions in both experimental and clinical domains. In Chapter 1, a literature review outlines the evolution of research on emotion-based learning, its neuropsychological correlates and focuses on one of the most popular tasks used to measure the concept: the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT). The IGT is an experimental task developed in order to simulate real world complex decision-making. In it, participants make choices from decks of cards that vary in both frequency and magnitude of reward (gain) and punishment (loss). Advantageous decision-making involves foregoing immediate gains with higher long-term losses for lower immediate gains and lower long-term losses. Research has indicated considerable variability in the extent to which healthy controls produce evidence of advantageous learning on the IGT. Chapter 2 showed that placing time constraints on the critical decision-making period in the IGT systematically disrupted the performance of healthy participants. Chapters 3 and 4 introduced a novel variant contingency shifting IGT in which the reward and punishment contingencies were systematically altered following initial exposure to the task. Research was undertaken with a large sample, using a repeated exposure design and by measuring the autonomic skin conductance correlates of contingency shifting IGT performance. Chapter 5 extended the investigation to the dimensional spectrum of depression and schizophrenia by applying the task to participants scoring high and low on measures of psychosis proneness and depression. Results showed that individuals with high psychotic and depressive features displayed poor flexible emotion-based learning performance. Chapter 6 showed that patients with schizophrenia exhibit impaired performance compared to controls, while Chapter 7 showed that depressed patients also underperformed compared to controls, in both the initial and contingency shifting phase of the variant IGT. Overall, the findings of the present thesis offer insights into the nature of flexible emotion-based learning, as measured with the contingency shifting IGT, and its impairment, across healthy volunteers, individuals at higher risk of developing psychosis or depression and patients with schizophrenia and depression.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available