Selective effects of serotonin on choices to gather more information


Background:Gathering and evaluating information leads to better decisions, but often at cost. The balance between information seeking and exploitation features in neurodevelopmental, mood, psychotic and substance-related disorders. Serotonin?s role has been highlighted by experimental reduction of its precursor, tryptophan.Aims:We tested the boundaries and applicability of this role by asking whether changes to information sampling would be observed following acute doses of serotonergic and catecholaminergic clinical treatments. We used a variant of the Information Sampling Task (IST) to measure how much information a person requires before they make a decision. This task allows participants to sample information until satisfied to make a choice.Methods:In separate double-blind placebo-controlled experiments, we tested 27 healthy participants on/off 20?mg of the serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI) citalopram, and 22 participants on/off 40?mg of the noradrenergic reuptake inhibitor atomoxetine. The IST variant minimised effects of temporal impulsivity and loss aversion. Analyses used a variety of participant prior expectations of sampling spaces in the IST, including a new prior that accounts for learning of likely states across trials. We analysed behaviour by a new method that also accounts for baseline individual differences of risk preference.Results:Baseline preferences demonstrated risk aversion. Citalopram decreased the expected utility of choices and probability of being correct based on informational content of samples collected, suggesting participants collected less useful information before making a choice. Atomoxetine did not influence information seeking.Conclusion:Acute changes of serotonin activity by way of a single SRI dose alter information-seeking behaviour.

Journal of Psychopharmacology