Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Anjali Krishnan


William Esber

Committee Members

Andrew R. Delamater

Elizabeth Chau

A. Duke Shereen

Subject Categories

Biological Psychology | Cognitive Neuroscience


reinforcement learning, cue compeition, ofc, individual differences, anxiety


Learning to anticipate significant events accurately is a crucial element of survival for all species. The process by which animals acquire this knowledge has been a central question of psychological research. A fundamental assumption of many learning theories is that the predictive value assigned to cues is not simply determined by their probability of reinforcement but rather by their ability to compete with other cues present during learning. The assumption of cue competition has significantly contributed to the development of behavioral and neuroscience research for decades, as it has opened the door to new empirical and theoretical advances on the mechanisms and circuits underlying cue competition. However, the generality of cue competition is challenged by evidence that cues can also interact with one another to augment conditioned responding (i.e., cue facilitation). Furthermore, cue competition is attenuated in individuals with clinical conditions such as schizophrenia and anxiety. This dissertation presents my work in developing a novel experimental paradigm to investigate individual differences in cue interaction across human participants. Having confirmed such individual differences, I then use this approach to investigate the role of within-compound associations (WCA) in cue interaction and the underlying neural correlates of individual differences. We found that WCA plays a role in facilitative but not competitive cue interactions. Furthermore, the neural correlates showed different neural correlates associated with different styles of cue interactions. While competitive cue interactions were associated with the occipital regions, facilitative cue interactions were associated with the frontal regions. Furthermore, we found an association between the extent of facilitative cue interactions and measures of anxiety, stress, and depression. With the novel experimental paradigm, our results highlight individual differences in cue interactions and their clinical utility.