Sympathetic involvement in time-constrained sequential foraging


Appraising sequential offers relative to an unknown future opportunity and a time cost requires an optimization policy that draws on a learned estimate of an environment’s richness. Converging evidence points to a learning asymmetry, whereby estimates of this richness update with a bias toward integrating positive information. We replicate this bias in a sequential foraging (prey selection) task and probe associated activation within the sympathetic branch of the autonomic system, using trial-by-trial measures of simultaneously recorded cardiac autonomic physiology. We reveal a unique adaptive role for the sympathetic branch in learning. It was specifically associated with adaptation to a deteriorating environment: it correlated with both the rate of negative information integration in belief estimates and downward changes in moment-to-moment environmental richness, and was predictive of optimal performance on the task. The findings are consistent with a framework whereby autonomic function supports the learning demands of prey selection.

ICB Affiliated Authors

Neil M. Dundon, Neil Garrett, Viktoriya Babenko, Matt Cieslak, Nathaniel D. Daw and Scott T. Grafton
Peer-Reviewed Article
Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience