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Poster B51

Individual differences in anxiety and perfectionism interact with instructed task goals to shape reinforcement learning behavior and memory

Poster Session B - Sunday, April 14, 2024, 8:00 – 10:00 am EDT, Sheraton Hall ABC

Jacqueline Bao1, Yuxi Candice Wang1, Alyssa H. Sinclair2, R. Alison Adcock1; 1Duke University, 2University of Pennsylvania

Motivations to learn reflect distinct goal structures and neural mechanisms, influencing outcomes in behavior and subsequent memory. Imperative motivation helps us address urgent goals and threats, whereas interrogative motivation helps us explore and plan for longer-term goals. Here, we examined whether individual differences in anxiety and perfectionism bias motivational states with downstream consequences for learning and memory. Participants (N=61) were randomly assigned to read a cover story to induce either imperative or interrogative motivation, then completed the same reinforcement learning task in which they repeatedly chose among four doors to reveal a trial-unique image and its value. The next day, we assessed memory for the images and associated reward values. We found that within the interrogative group, high trait perfectionism predicted greater maximization of rewards during reinforcement learning, suggesting that even in a learning context without urgent goals, perfectionists exhibit behaviors aligned with imperative motivation. Across both interrogative and imperative groups, higher state anxiety correlated with better recall of values that were worse-than-expected (generating negative prediction errors) during reinforcement learning, compared to values that were better-than-expected (generating positive prediction errors). These results suggest that, even in contexts intended to promote exploratory learning, the bias to avoid risk during learning (associated with perfectionism) or to remember negative outcomes (associated with anxiety) may oppose the learning context, and potentially give rise to maladaptive goal-pursuit. More broadly, this work illustrates how psychological states may determine the behavioral and cognitive impact of incentives and goals, highlighting their interplay in goal-directed behavior.



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April 13–16  |  2024