Universiteit Leiden

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LIBC Colloquium

Wednesday 19 January 2022
via Zoom
Pieter de la Courtgebouw, only via Zoom

Mice ramp up attention and ramp down arousal to exploit increases in task utility

To meet their survival needs, organisms must constantly choose not only which sensory stimuli to attend to, but also how much attention to pay. Global arousal is key to attention, but it is not clear if and how organisms self-regulate their arousal to facilitate matching the intensity of their attention to its utility.

We developed an “attentional effort task” for head-fixed mice. Mice (N=86; total of 1956 sessions and >800K trials) licked for sugar-water reward upon detection of temporally unpredictable coherence in a sustained tone-cloud. We manipulated task utility by changing the reward size in blocks of trials. Thus, mice should expend more attentional effort (exploit more) in high reward blocks and disengage more in low reward blocks. We simultaneously recorded pupil size and walking speed.

We report several signatures of increased effort allocation in the high vs low reward context: (i) Mice detected more signals and thus collected more rewards. (ii) Fitting the reaction time data with an accumulation-to-bound model revealed that the efficiency, timescale and reliability. of evidence accumulation were higher. (iii) Pre-trial pupil size was smaller and closer to the optimal level (defined as the intermediate pre-trial pupil size for which signal responsiveness was maximal). (iv) Mice walked more during the low reward blocks, indicative of active exploration rather than resting.

In sum, we find that pupil-linked and walk-related arousal underlie strategic adjustments of the exploration-exploitation tradeoff. These results advance our understanding of flexible and adaptive behavior and are relevant to approaches aiming to improve decision-making in health and disease. In ongoing work, we are determining the roles of frontal-sensory interactions and various neuromodulatory systems in mediating these adaptive shifts in attentional state.

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