Examining the role of the human hippocampus in approach–avoidance decision making using a novel conflict paradigm and multivariate functional magnetic resonance imaging


Rodent models of anxiety have implicated the ventral hippocampus in approach–avoidance conflict processing. Few studies have, however, examined whether the human hippocampus plays a similar role. We developed a novel decision-making paradigm to examine neural activity when participants made approach/avoidance decisions under conditions of high or absent approach–avoidance conflict. Critically, our task required participants to learn the associated reward/punishment values of previously neutral stimuli and controlled for mnemonic and spatial processing demands, both important issues given approach–avoidance behavior in humans is less tied to predation and foraging compared to rodents. Participants played a points-based game where they first attempted to maximize their score by determining which of a series of previously neutral image pairs should be approached or avoided. During functional magnetic resonance imaging, participants were then presented with novel pairings of these images. These pairings consisted of images of congruent or opposing learned valences, the latter creating conditions of high approach–avoidance conflict. A data-driven partial least squares multivariate analysis revealed two reliable patterns of activity, each revealing differential activity in the anterior hippocampus, the homolog of the rodent ventral hippocampus. The first was associated with greater hippocampal involvement during trials with high as opposed to no approach–avoidance conflict, regardless of approach or avoidance behavior. The second pattern encompassed greater hippocampal activity in a more anterior aspect during approach compared to avoid responses, for conflict and no-conflict conditions. Multivoxel pattern classification analyses yielded converging findings, underlining a role of the anterior hippocampus in approach–avoidance conflict decision making.

In *Journal of Neuroscience
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Sathesan Thavabalasingam
Sathesan Thavabalasingam
Data Scientist

I am a Neuroscientist turned Data Scientist with an interest in deriving meaningful insights from data.