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Electrophysiological investigation of reward anticipation and outcome evaluation during slot machine play

, Bj Roach, Cb Holroyd, Mp Paulus, , A Boos, Jm Ford,
Published: 15 May 2021
NeuroImage , Volume 232; doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.117874

Abstract: Slot machines are a popular form of gambling, offering a tractable way to experimentally model reward processes. This study used a 3-reel slot paradigm to assess psychologically distinct phases of reward processing, reflecting anticipation, and early- and late-stage outcome processing. EEG measures of winning, nearly missing (a losing outcome revealed at the final, third reel), and “totally” missing (a losing outcome revealed earlier, at the second reel) were collected from healthy adults (n=54). Condition effects were evaluated in: i) event-related potential (ERP) components reflecting anticipatory attention (stimulus preceding negativity, SPN) and outcome processing (reward positivity, RewP and late-positive potential, LPP) and ii) total power and phase synchrony of theta and delta band oscillations. Behaviorally, trial initiation was fastest after a near miss outcome and slowest after a winning outcome. As expected, a significant SPN was observed for possible wins (AA) vs. total misses (AB), consistent with reward anticipation. Larger win (AAA) vs. near miss (AAB) amplitudes were observed for the RewP; LPP amplitudes were largest for wins (AAA), intermediate for near misses (AAB), and smallest for total misses (ABC), reflecting significant early (RewP) and late-stage (LPP) outcome processing effects. There was an effect of reel position on the RewP, with larger amplitude in the final reel (AAA-AAB) relative to the 2nd-reel locked difference waves (AA-AB). Across all outcomes, near misses elicited the largest and most phase-synchronized theta responses, while wins elicited larger and more phase-synchronized delta responses than total misses, with delta band measures not distinguishing between near misses and wins. . Phase locking measures contrasting win vs. near miss delta and theta synchronization, within time windows corresponding to ERP measurements, covaried with RewP, but not SPN or LPP, amplitude. Lastly, EEG measures showed differential relationships with age and self-reported consummatory pleasure. In the context of slot machine play, where reward anticipation and attainment place minimal demands on effort and skill, ERP and time-frequency methods capture distinct neurophysiological signatures of reward anticipation and outcome processing.
Keywords: Near miss / Frontal medial theta oscillations / Feedback related negativity (FRN) / Delta oscillations / Frustrative nonreward

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