Formation of Non-Veridical Action-Outcome Associations Following Exposure to Threat-Related Cues

Yael Troudart, Nitzan Shahar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Acting in a goal-directed manner requires an ability to accurately predict the outcomes of one’s actions. However, not much is known regarding how threat-related cues influence our ability to form action-outcome associations according to the environment’s known causal structure. Here, we examined the extent to which threat-related cues influence individuals’ tendency to form and act in accordance with action-outcome associations that do not exist in the external environment (i.e., outcome-irrelevant learning). Forty-nine healthy participants completed an online multi-armed reinforcement-learning bandit task in which they were asked to help a child safely cross a street. Outcome-irrelevant learning was estimated as a tendency to assign value to response keys that did not predict an outcome but were used to report participants’ choices. We first replicated previous findings showing that individuals tend to form and act in accordance with irrelevant actionoutcome associations, across experimental conditions, and despite explicit knowledge regarding the environment’s true structure. Importantly, results of a Bayesian regression analysis suggest that the presentation of threat-related images, compared with neutral or no visual cues at trial initiation, increased outcomeirrelevant learning. We discuss outcome-irrelevant learning as a possible theoretical mechanism that may lead to altered learning in the face of perceived threat.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2094-2099
Number of pages6
Issue number7
StatePublished - 13 Mar 2023


FundersFunder number
Israel Science Foundation2536/20


    • decision-making
    • reinforcement learning
    • threat-related cues


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