Reinforcement learning modulates the stability of cognitive control settings for object selection
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Cognitive flexibility reflects both a trait that reliably differs between individuals and a state that can fluctuate moment-to-moment. Whether individuals can undergo persistent changes in cognitive flexibility as a result of reward learning is less understood. Here, we investigated whether reinforcing a periodic shift in an object selection strategy can make an individual more prone to switch strategies in a subsequent unrelated task. Participants completed two different choice tasks in which they selected one of four objects in an attempt to obtain a hidden reward on each trial. During a training phase, objects were defined by color. Participants received either consistent reward contingencies in which one color was more often rewarded, or contingencies in which the color that was more often rewarded changed periodically and without warning. Following the training phase, all participants completed a test phase in which reward contingencies were defined by spatial location and the location that was more often rewarded remained constant across the entire task. Those participants who received inconsistent contingencies during training continued to make more variable selections during the test phase in comparison to those who received the consistent training. Furthermore, a difference in the likelihood to switch selections on a trial-by-trial basis emerged between training groups: participants who received consistent contingencies during training were less likely to switch object selections following an unrewarded trial and more likely to repeat a selection following reward. Our findings provide evidence that the extent to which priority shifting is reinforced modulates the stability of cognitive control settings in a persistent manner, such that individuals become generally more or less prone to shifting priorities in the future.
author list (cited authors)
Sali, A. W., Anderson, B. A., & Yantis, S.