The Influence of Environmental Cues on Choice Between Actions - Dr Vincent Laurent

What is this research about?

Every day, we make numerous decisions, ranging from what food we eat or what clothes to wear. Decision making research is interested in understanding the rules that drive these decisions, or in other words, how and why we choose between the various courses of action available to us. One variable that influences these choices is the presence of environmental cues that share a history with the consequences of available actions. This influence can be studied in the laboratory through a task known as specific Pavlovian-Instrumental transfer (PIT). In both humans and other animals (e.g., rodents), this task shows that a cue predicting a particular outcome biases choice towards actions earning that same outcome. The present project uses rodents to understand the psychological and neural mechanisms underlying the specific PIT effect.

At the neural level, we have highlighted the critical role played by a sub-region of the ventral striatum. Within this region, we have found compelling evidence for the critical role played by specific neuronal populations, neurotransmitters systems and their respective receptors in action selection. Yet, much more needs to be done to fully describe the neural circuitry underlying specific PIT.

At the behavioural level, we have provided the first evidence that choice between actions is also influenced by environmental cues that signal the absence of the outcomes earned by the actions (i.e., inhibitory cues). At the neural level, we have revealed that this influence shares a lot in common with the one described above. But once again, more research is needed to fully describe the psychological and neural processes underlying the influence of inhibitory cues on choice between actions.

Importantly, the influence of environmental cues on choice between actions is generally viewed as being adaptive. Indeed, it favours choice towards actions earning outcomes that are most likely to occur: they are predicted by the cues present at the time of choice. However, this influence can be maladaptive and in fact, it is believed to underlying many disorders such as drug addiction or obesity. Thus, there is a real need to provide more information about the mechanisms underlying specific PIT.

Other researchers involved:

Ashleigh Morse (PhD Student)

Dr. Jay Bertran-Gonzalez (DECRA Researcher)

Dr. Billy Chieng (Post-doctoral Research Associate)

Dr. Beatrice Leung (Post-doctoral Research Associate)

Scientia Professor Bernard Balleine

Publications relating to this research:

Laurent, V., Chieng, B., & Balleine, B. W. (2016). Extinction Generates Outcome-Specific Conditioned Inhibition. Current Biology, 26(23), 3169–3175.

Laurent V., Balleine BW. (2015). Factual and counterfactual action-outcome mappings control choice between goal-directed actions in rats. Curr Biol. 25(8):1074-9.

Laurent V., Morse A.K., Balleine B.W. (2015). The role of opioid processes in reward and decision-making. Br J Pharmacol. 172(2): 449-59.

Laurent V., Wong F.L., Balleine B.W. (2015). δ-Opioid receptors in the accumbens shell mediate the influence of both excitatory and inhibitory predictions on choice. Br J Pharmacol. 172(2); 562-70.

Laurent V., Bertran-Gonzalez J., Chieng B.C., Balleine B.W. (2014). δ-Opioid and Dopaminergic Processes in Accumbens Shell Modulate the Cholinergic Control of Predictive Learning and Choice. Journal of Neuroscience. 34:1358–1369.

Bertran-Gonzalez J., Laurent V., Chieng B.C., Christie M.J., Balleine B.W. (2013). Learning-related translocation of δ-opioid receptors on ventral striatal cholinergic interneurons mediates choice between goal-directed actions. Journal of Neuroscience. 33(41): 16060-71.

Laurent V., Leung B.K., Maidment N., Balleine B.W. (2012). μ- and δ-opioid-related processes in the accumbens core and shell differentially mediate the influence of reward-guided and stimulus-guided decisions on choice. Journal of Neuroscience. 32:1875-1883.


ARC Discovery Project Grant (2013-2015) – The role of inhibitory conditioning in choice and decision-making – Laurent & Balleine


Decision Neuroscience Laboratory