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Learning on the IGT follows emergence of knowledge but not differential somatic activity

Fernie, Gordon; Tunney, Richard J.


Gordon Fernie

Richard J. Tunney


The importance of unconscious autonomic activity vs. knowledge in influencing behavior on the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) has been the subject of debate. The task's developers, Bechara and colleagues, have claimed that behavior on the IGT is influenced by somatic activity and that this activity precedes the emergence of knowledge about the task contingencies sufficient to guide behavior. Since then others have claimed that this knowledge emerges much earlier on the task. However, it has yet to be established whether somatic activity which differentiates between advantageous and disadvantageous choices on the IGT is found before this point. This study describes an experiment to determine whether knowledge sufficient to guide behavior precedes differential autonomic activity or vice versa. This experiment used a computerized version of the IGT, knowledge probes after every 10 trials and skin conductance recording to measure somatic activity. Whereas in previous reports the majority of participants end the task with full conceptual knowledge of the IGT contingencies we found little evidence in support of this conclusion. However, full conceptual knowledge was not critical for advantageous deck selection to occur and most participants had knowledge sufficient to guide behavior after approximately 40 trials. We did not find anticipatory physiological activity sufficient to differentiate between deck types in the period prior to acquiring this knowledge. However, post-punishment physiological activity was found to be larger for the disadvantageous decks in the pre-knowledge period, but only for participants who displayed knowledge. Post-reward physiological activity distinguished between the advantageous and disadvantageous decks across the whole experiment but, again, only in participants who displayed knowledge and then only in later trials following their display of knowledge.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Oct 4, 2013
Journal Frontiers in Psychology
Electronic ISSN 1664-1078
Publisher Frontiers Media
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 4
Issue 687
Institution Citation Fernie, G., & Tunney, R. J. (2013). Learning on the IGT follows emergence of knowledge but not differential somatic activity. Frontiers in Psychology, 4(687), doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00687
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Copyright Statement Copyright information regarding this work can be found at the following address:
Additional Information This Document is Protected by copyright and was first published by Frontiers. All rights reserved. it is reproduced with permission.


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