Does bipolar disorder affect how we perceive rewards?


In bipolar disorder, normal fluctuations in mood may snowball because of a stronger bias of emotion on how experiences are perceived. When we are in a good mood, we may perceive rewards as better than they actually are. When we are in a bad mood, we may perceive rewards as worse than they actually are. This bias of mood on how we experience our world may be beneficial because it helps us adapt to a changing environment. If the world is getting better, putting us in a good mood, it may mean we should take advantage of that and try to get more rewards before the environment changes again. However, people whose moods bias their perception of rewards too strongly may be more likely to experience greater mood swings in reaction to the same sequence of good or bad events, potentially resulting in extreme behaviour. Computational simulations show that variations in this “mood bias” can explain a range of symptoms observed in people with bipolar disorder. The strongest mood bias resulted in more severe episodes and less time spent in remission. Our theory suggests a new way of understanding the symptoms of bipolar disorder that can be used to make predictions for future research.

Mason L, Eldar E, Rutledge RB (2017) Mood Instability and Reward Dysregulation - A Neurocomputational Model of Bipolar Disorder. JAMA Psychiatry [Abstract] [PDF]

This new article build on theoretical research presented in this previous article and makes specific predictions relevant to bipolar disorder.

Eldar E*, Rutledge RB*, Dolan RJ, Niv Y (2016) Mood as a representation of momentum. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 20, 14-24.  [Abstract] [PDF] [Supplemental]