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Exploring the Unexplored: Worry as a Catalyst for Exploratory Behavior in Anxiety and Depression

The relationship between anxious and depressive traits and exploration behavior has been examined in several studies with mixed results. While some studies suggest that anxious and depressive traits are related to avoidance and a decrease in exploratory behaviour, others find the opposite to be true. In our studies, we adopt a multi-armed bandit task in which arms that were spatially close to each other have similar rewards, allowing for generalisation from observed rewards. Furthermore, we introduced risks to simulate costs of over-exploration in the real world. In two studies, we investigate the relationship between transdiagnostic symptoms of anxiety and depression, specifically worrying, and task behaviour. While our first study uses a purely correlational design, our second study involves a psychotherapy-inspired intervention to reduce worries and investigate their causal effect on exploration behaviour. The results suggest that worrying may be a causal factor linking anxious and depressive traits to increased exploration behaviour. Specifically, using computational modelling, we show that worrying is related to an increased preference for novel options, as opposed to mere choice stochasticity. These findings enhance our understanding of the complex links between depression, anxiety and exploration behaviour, and highlight the importance of worry in driving increased exploration.

Witte Kirsten; Wise Toby; Huys Quentin J. M. and Schulz Eric (2024). PsyArxiv

Article can be found here.

Posted in preprints