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A computational theory of evaluation processes in apathy

Rigoli, F. ORCID: 0000-0003-2233-934X & Martinelli, C. (2022). A computational theory of evaluation processes in apathy. Current Psychology, doi: 10.1007/s12144-022-03643-5


Computational modelling can offer valuable insight on mental illness. However, this approach has rarely been adopted to investigate apathy, a condition characterising a variety of psychiatric and neurological syndromes. This paper proposes a computational model of apathy and tests key model predictions in the healthy adult population. Building upon recent reference-dependent theories of evaluation, the model interprets apathy as arising from an excessive uncertainty about the distribution of incentives in the environment. This predicts that high-apathy individuals appraise the value of stimuli as less extreme and as more similar to one another. These predictions were assessed in two online studies where healthy adults rated the value of pictures characterised by varying levels of emotional salience. In line with the model, we observed that high-apathy individuals perceive negative stimuli as less negative, positive stimuli as less positive, and discriminate less among stimuli characterised by different salience. The contribution of this paper is twofold. On a more specific level, it sheds light on the precise mechanisms underlying evaluation processes in apathy. On a more general level, it highlights the insight offered by models of reference-dependent evaluation for understanding psychopathology.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Publisher Keywords: Apathy, Computational, Reference dependent, Uncertainty, Evaluation
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

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