How does non-invasive brain stimulation influence the behavioral and neural correlates of reward/punishment-based learning and decision-making?

Background: We are interested in how we can improve reward- and punishment-based learning and decision-making in healthy adults by non-invasive brain stimulation. So far, we have developed a computer-based card game, in which participants have to learn the rules by trying out different response strategies in order to maximize their earnings. We manipulate task difficulty to assess how it influences task performance. In our previous study, we stimulated the medial prefrontal cortex with a harmless and completely safe brain stimulation technique, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), to investigate its effects on task performance. We have found that relative to placebo stimulation, active stimulation increases cognitive control during the card game so that participants can more efficiently overcome their automatic response tendencies when the task is more difficult. This result might have implications to psychiatric disorders such as depression or addiction, because these conditions are characterized by altered reward & punishment sensitivity, impaired decision-making, and reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex.

Current study aims: As the next step, we want to investigate if this tDCS effect is accompanied by enhanced cortical responses during decision-making and feedback evaluation. This is an important question because if we can link the behavioral effects of tDCS to well-defined neural responses, we can further optimize stimulation parameters in future studies to improve reward/punishment processing and decision-making in psychiatric patients. For this purpose of the current study, we want to combine tDCS with electroencephalography (EEG) while participants (healthy adults) are asked to play the card game.

Forskningsspørsmål: Does active tDCS influence neural responses during decision-making, feedback evaluation, or both? Is the neural effect related to the behavioral effect?

Kategori: This study involves collecting new experimental data. Experimenters will learn about the theoretical background of reward/punishment-based learning and its implications to psychiatric disorders, how to perform brain stimulation, record EEG, and analyze experimental data (both behavioral and neural).

Antall studenter: 3-4

Språk: All task materials (card game and questionnaires) are in Norwegian. Consultations are going to be in English, but students can choose to prepare their theses either in Norwegian or in English.

Navn på veileder: Gabor Csifcsak (gabor.csifcsak@uit.no)

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