Sympathetic involvement in time-constrained sequential foraging

Neil M. Dundon, Neil Garrett, Viktoriya Babenko, Matt Cieslak, Nathaniel D. Daw, Scott T. Grafton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Appraising sequential offers relative to an unknown future opportunity and a time cost requires an optimization policy that draws on a learned estimate of an environment’s richness. Converging evidence points to a learning asymmetry, whereby estimates of this richness update with a bias toward integrating positive information. We replicate this bias in a sequential foraging (prey selection) task and probe associated activation within the sympathetic branch of the autonomic system, using trial-by-trial measures of simultaneously recorded cardiac autonomic physiology. We reveal a unique adaptive role for the sympathetic branch in learning. It was specifically associated with adaptation to a deteriorating environment: it correlated with both the rate of negative information integration in belief estimates and downward changes in moment-to-moment environmental richness, and was predictive of optimal performance on the task. The findings are consistent with a framework whereby autonomic function supports the learning demands of prey selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)730-745
Number of pages16
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Decision-making
  • Learning
  • Sequential foraging
  • Sympathetic stress


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