Nathan Clement, Ph.D.
Modulation of Active Exploratory Behaviors in Humans
Human learning and memory relies on a broad network of neural substrates, and is sensitive to a range of environmental factors and behaviors. The present studies are designed to investigate the modulation of active exploration behaviors in humans, which can serve to regulate learning in response to environmental challenge. In the current work, we operationalize exploration in two ways: participants’ spatial navigation (using a computer mouse) in environments containing rewarding and informative stimuli, and participants’ eyegaze activity while viewing images on a computer screen. The study described in Study 1 investigates the relationship between spatial exploration and reward, using participants’ reported anxiety levels to predict between-subject variability in vigor and information-seeking. The study described in Study 2 investigates the relationship between cue-outcome predictive validity and eyegaze behavior during learning; additionally, we test the extent to which differing states of expectation drive differences in eyegaze behavior to novel images. The study described in Study 3 expands on the questions raised in Study 2: using functional imaging and eyetracking, we investigate the relationship between predictive validity, gaze, and the neural systems supporting active exploration. Taken together, the findings in the present study suggest that emerging certainty in reward outcomes, rather than uncertainty, drives exploration and associative learning for events and their outcomes as well as encoding into long-term memory.