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Neuroimage. 2009 Jan 1;44(1):243-51. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.08.038. Epub 2008 Sep 12.

The influence of feedback valence in associative learning.

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Psychology Service, VA San Diego Healthcare System, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.


The neural systems engaged by intrinsic positive or negative feedback were defined in an associative learning task. Through trial and error, participants learned the arbitrary assignments of a set of stimuli to one of two response categories. Informative feedback was provided on less than 25% of the trials. During positive feedback blocks, half of the trials were eligible for informative feedback; of these, informative feedback was only provided when the response was correct. A similar procedure was used on negative feedback blocks, but here informative feedback was only provided when the response was incorrect. In this manner, we sought to identify regions that were differentially responsive to positive and negative feedback as well as areas that were responsive to both types of informative feedback. Several regions of interest, including the bilateral nucleus accumbens, caudate nucleus, anterior insula, right cerebellar lobule VI, and left putamen, were sensitive to informative feedback regardless of valence. In contrast, several regions were more selective to positive feedback compared to negative feedback. These included the insula, amygdala, putamen, and supplementary motor area. No regions were more strongly activated by negative feedback compared to positive feedback. These results indicate that the neural areas supporting associative learning vary as a function of how that information is learned. In addition, areas linked to intrinsic reinforcement showed considerable overlap with those identified in studies using extrinsic reinforcers.

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