From Affective Experience to Motivated Action: Tracking Reward-Seeking and Punishment-Avoidant Behaviour in Real-Life

Marieke Wichers*, Zuzana Kasanova, Jindra Bakker, Evert Thiery, Catherine Derom, Nele Jacobs, Jim van Os

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Many of the decisions and actions in everyday life result from implicit learning processes. Important to psychopathology are, for example, implicit reward-seeking and punishment-avoidant learning processes. It is known that when specific actions get associated with a rewarding experience, such as positive emotions, that this will increase the likelihood that an organism will engage in similar actions in the future. Similarly, when actions get associated with punishing experiences, such as negative emotions, this may reduce the likelihood that the organism will engage in similar actions in the future. This study examines whether we can observe these implicit processes prospectively in the flow of daily life. If such processes take place then we expect that current behaviour can be predicted by how similar behaviour was experienced (in terms of positive and negative affect) at previous measurement moments. This was examined in a sample of 621 female individuals that had participated in an Experience Sampling data collection. Measures of affect and behaviour were collected at 10 semi-random moments of the day for 5 consecutive days. It was examined whether affective experience that was paired with certain behaviours (physical activity and social context) at previous measurements modified the likelihood to show similar behaviours at next measurement moments. Analyses were performed both at the level of observations (a time scale with units of +/- 90 min) and at day level (a time scale with units of 24 h). As expected, we found that affect indeed moderated the extent to which previous behaviour predicted similar behaviour later in time, at both beep- and day-level. This study showed that it is feasible to track reward-seeking and punishment-avoidant behaviour prospectively in humans in the flow of daily life. This opens up a new toolbox to examine processes determining goal-oriented behaviour in relation to psychopathology in humans.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0129722
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2015

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