Article

Active inference, stressors, and psychological trauma: A neuroethological model of (mal)adaptive explore-exploit dynamics in ecological context

Citation

Linson A, Parr T & Friston KJ (2020) Active inference, stressors, and psychological trauma: A neuroethological model of (mal)adaptive explore-exploit dynamics in ecological context. Behavioural Brain Research, 380, Art. No.: 112421. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2019.112421

Abstract
This paper offers a formal account of emotional inference and stress-related behaviour, using the notion of active inference. We formulate responses to stressful scenarios in terms of Bayesian belief-updating and subsequent policy selection; namely, planning as (active) inference. Using a minimal model of how creatures or subjects account for their sensations (and subsequent action), we deconstruct the sequences of belief updating and behaviour that underwrite stress-related responses – and simulate the aberrant responses of the sort seen in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Crucially, the model used for belief-updating generates predictions in multiple (exteroceptive, proprioceptive and interoceptive) modalities, to provide an integrated account of evidence accumulation and multimodal integration that has consequences for both motor and autonomic responses. The ensuing phenomenology speaks to many constructs in the ecological and clinical literature on stress, which we unpack with reference to simulated inference processes and accompanying neuronal responses. A key insight afforded by this formal approach rests on the trade-off between the epistemic affordance of certain cues (that resolve uncertainty about states of affairs in the environment) and the consequences of epistemic foraging (that may be in conflict with the instrumental or pragmatic value of ‘fleeing’ or ‘freezing’). Starting from first principles, we show how this trade-off is nuanced by prior (subpersonal) beliefs about the outcomes of behaviour – beliefs that, when held with unduly high precision, can lead to (Bayes optimal) responses that closely resemble PTSD.

Keywords
Stress; Fear; Aversion; Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); Psychopathology; Computational psychiatry

Journal
Behavioural Brain Research: Volume 380

StatusPublished
FundersRosetrees Trust and The Wellcome Trust
Publication date28/02/2020
Publication date online31/12/2019
Date accepted by journal07/12/2019
URLhttp://hdl.handle.net/1893/30556
PublisherElsevier BV
ISSN0166-4328
eISSN1872-7549