Neurophysiological mechanisms driving cognitive biases and decision-making in trait anxiety

Uncertainty is thought to be central to many psychiatric disorders, most notably anxiety. Only recently a quantitative understanding of the role played by uncertainty in these disorders has started to emerge, particularly in the context of decision-making. One of the key findings is that trait anxiety is associated with impairments in decision-making and learning in unstable environments, due to an abnormal estimation of the task statistical structure. This project will expand these findings by assessing the neural correlates underlying the anxiety-induced biases in processing uncertainty during decision-making. Combining MEG and individual T1-MRI, our goal is to assess whether neural activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and prefrontal areas – known to contribute to the symptoms in anxiety disorders – underlie the impairments in uncertainty processing in anxiety, and thus lead to poorer learning and decision-making.

1. Hein, T.P., Weber, L.A., de Fockert, J. and Ruiz, M.H., 2019. State anxiety biases estimates of uncertainty during reward learning in volatile environments. bioRxiv, p.809749.
2. Sporn, S., Hein, T. and Ruiz, M.H., 2020. Alterations in the amplitude and burst rate of beta oscillations impair reward-dependent motor learning in anxiety. Elife, 9, p.e50654.
Pulcu E, Browning M. The misestimation of uncertainty in affective disorders. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 2019 Oct 1;23(10):865-75.

Project Leaders - Maria Herrojo Ruiz, Vadim Nikulin.