Attenuating reflexive and reflective decision making deficits through targeted training
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Contemporary learning theories posit the existence of at least two distinct systems that mediate learning. These systems are recognized under the dual-learning systems (DLS) hypothesis as a reflective system that is available to conscious awareness and that uses working memory resources to develop and test hypotheses, and a reflexive system that is not available to conscious awareness and that depends on learning via reinforcement. Depression is associated with impairments in reflexive processes, including blunted implicit reward sensitivity and biased attention to negative information, and impairments in reflective processing, including declines in working memory, planning, and problem solving. We hypothesize that these deficits contribute to observed differences in decision-making performance associated with depression. In this series of work we explore the effects of sub-clinical symptoms of depression on decision-making performance and use the dual-learning systems hypothesis to develop targeted training mechanisms to modify behavior in two types of decision-making tasks. In order to effectively develop mechanisms to modify performance, we must understand the cognitive processes and strategies that are necessary for optimal task performance. In Chapters 1 and 2 we identify two types of decision-making tasks for which reflective and reflexive strategies differentially affect performance. The reflective task is a history-dependent decision-making task for which short-term rewards must be foregone to maximize long-term performance. The reflexive task is a history-independent decision-making task for which one option gives a higher average reward and rewards are only dependent on the most recent response. Chapters 3 and 4 confirm deficits associated with elevated symptoms of depression in both of these tasks and test the effects of attention and working-memory training paradigms on modifying behavior. These chapters focus on inducing short-term improvements in decision-making by modifying the strategies that participants engage. Whereas much of this work explores short-term training with a goal of temporarily improving processing in individuals with elevated symptoms of depression, Chapter 5 uses long-term working memory training with a goal of producing persisting changes in cognitive processing. Implications for future work are discussed.