Background: Approach and avoidance behavior provide a means for assessing the rewarding or aversive value of stimuli, and can be quantified by a keypress procedure whereby subjects work to increase (approach), decrease (avoid), or do nothing about time of exposure to a rewarding/aversive stimulus. To investigate whether approach/avoidance behavior might be governed by quantitative principles that meet engineering criteria for lawfulness and that encode known features of reward/aversion function, we evaluated whether keypress responses toward pictures with potential motivational value produced any regular patterns, such as a trade-off between approach and avoidance, or recurrent lawful patterns as observed with prospect theory. Methodology/Principal Findings: Three sets of experiments employed this task with beautiful face images, a standardized set of affective photographs, and pictures of food during controlled states of hunger and satiety. An iterative modeling approach to data identified multiple law-like patterns, based on variables grounded in the individual. These patterns were consistent across stimulus types, robust to noise, describable by a simple power law, and scalable between individuals and groups. Patterns included: (i) a preference trade-off counterbalancing approach and avoidance, (ii) a value function linking preference intensity to uncertainty about preference, and (iii) a saturation function linking preference intensity to its standard deviation, thereby setting limits to both. Conclusions/Significance: These law-like patterns were compatible with critical features of prospect theory, the matching law, and alliesthesia. Furthermore, they appeared consistent with both mean-variance and expected utility approaches to the assessment of risk. Ordering of responses across categories of stimuli demonstrated three properties thought to be relevant for preference-based choice, suggesting these patterns might be grouped together as a relative preference theory. Since variables in these patterns have been associated with reward circuitry structure and function, they may provide a method for quantitative phenotyping of normative and pathological function (e.g., psychiatric illness).
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)