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The specificity of Pavlovian regulation is associated with recovery from depression

  • Q. J. M. Huys (a1) (a2) (a3) (a4), M. Gölzer (a5), E. Friedel (a5), A. Heinz (a5), R. Cools (a6), P. Dayan (a2) and R. J. Dolan (a1) (a7) (a8)...
Abstract
Background

Changes in reflexive emotional responses are hallmarks of depression, but how emotional reflexes make an impact on adaptive decision-making in depression has not been examined formally. Using a Pavlovian-instrumental transfer (PIT) task, we compared the influence of affectively valenced stimuli on decision-making in depression and generalized anxiety disorder compared with healthy controls; and related this to the longitudinal course of the illness.

Method

A total of 40 subjects with a current DSM-IV-TR diagnosis of major depressive disorder, dysthymia, generalized anxiety disorder, or a combination thereof, and 40 matched healthy controls performed a PIT task that assesses how instrumental approach and withdrawal behaviours are influenced by appetitive and aversive Pavlovian conditioned stimuli (CSs). Patients were followed up after 4–6 months. Analyses focused on patients with depression alone (n = 25).

Results

In healthy controls, Pavlovian CSs exerted action-specific effects, with appetitive CSs boosting active approach and aversive CSs active withdrawal. This action-specificity was absent in currently depressed subjects. Greater action-specificity in patients was associated with better recovery over the follow-up period.

Conclusions

Depression is associated with an abnormal influence of emotional reactions on decision-making in a way that may predict recovery.

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Copyright
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
* Address for correspondence: Q. J. M. Huys, Translational Neuroimaging Unit, ETH Zürich, Wilfriedstrasse 6, 8032 Zürich, Switzerland. (Email: qhuys@cantab.net)
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