BEACON Seminar: Following the Cues - How do Sound and Light Cues impact risky Decision Making?

Computer games and electronic gambling products frequently signal reward delivery with accompanying sound and light cues. While this sensory stimulation may seem superficially harmless, decades of research into the neurobiological processes underlying chemical dependency suggests that cue-reactivity enhances vulnerability to drug addiction. Furthermore, repeated exposure to conditioned stimuli which predict reward delivery with maximal uncertainty, or responding on variable as opposed to fixed ratio schedules of reinforcement, can by themselves sensitise rats to the locomotor and reinforcing properties of psychostimulant drugs. We have shown that adding reward-concurrent cues to laboratory-based gambling paradigms increases risky decision making in both rats and humans, and alters the recruitment of the dopamine system in the decision making process. Rats that perform the cued rat gambling task daily also self-administer more cocaine, and subsequently make even more risky choices on the task. Psychopharmacology studies in rats indicate that serotonergic, noradrenergic, and cholinergic modulation of choice preference changes when such cues are present. Behavioural experiments reveal that cues have to be reliably, but not exclusively win-paired in order to exacerbate risky decision-making in rodent models. Contrary to our initial expectations, computational modeling analyses of data from over 200 rats show that these cues do not drive risky decision making by enhancing learning from rewards, but rather preventing sufficient learning from punishments. When given the choice, most rats prefer to play the cued version of the task, even though fewer rewards are earned, and the more they select cued trials, the riskier their decision making becomes. The potential consequences for gambling disorder and addiction vulnerability will be discussed.