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Abstract“Pavlovian” or “motivational” biases describe the phenomenon that the valence of prospective outcomes modulates action invigoration: Reward prospect invigorates action, whereas punishment prospect suppresses it. The adaptive role of these biases in decision-making is still unclear. One idea is that they constitute a fast-and-frugal decision strategy in situations characterized by high arousal, e.g., in presence of a predator, which demand a quick response. In this pre-registered study (N = 35), we tested whether such a situation—induced via subliminally presented angry versus neutral faces—leads to increased reliance on Pavlovian biases. We measured trial-by-trial arousal by tracking pupil diameter while participants performed an orthogonalized Motivational Go/NoGo Task. Pavlovian biases were present in responses, reaction times, and even gaze, with lower gaze dispersion under aversive cues reflecting “freezing of gaze.” The subliminally presented faces did not affect responses, reaction times, or pupil diameter, suggesting that the arousal manipulation was ineffective. However, pupil dilations reflected facets of bias suppression, specifically the physical (but not cognitive) effort needed to overcome aversive inhibition: Particularly strong and sustained dilations occurred when participants managed to perform Go responses to aversive cues. Conversely, no such dilations occurred when they managed to inhibit responses to Win cues. These results suggest that pupil diameter does not reflect response conflict per se nor the inhibition of prepotent responses, but specifically effortful action invigoration as needed to overcome aversive inhibition. We discuss our results in the context of the “value of work” theory of striatal dopamine.

Original publication




Journal article


Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience


Springer Science and Business Media LLC

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