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Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2011 Oct;1(4):578-90. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2011.06.007. Epub 2011 Jun 25.

Distinct linear and non-linear trajectories of reward and punishment reversal learning during development: relevance for dopamine's role in adolescent decision making.

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Radboud University Nijmegen, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


Abnormalities in value-based decision making during adolescence have often been attributed to non-linear, inverted-U shaped development of reward-related processes. This hypothesis is strengthened by functional imaging work revealing an inverted-U shaped relationship between age and reward-related activity in the striatum. However, behavioural studies have mostly reported linear rather than non-linear increases in reward-related performance. In the present study, we investigated the mechanisms underlying the development of reward- and punishment-related processing across four age groups using a reversal learning task previously shown to depend on striatal dopamine. We demonstrate both linear and non-linear age effects on distinct components of reversal learning. Specifically, results revealed a linear shift with age in terms of valence-dependent reversal learning, with children exhibiting better punishment than reward reversal learning, adults exhibiting better reward than punishment reversal learning and adolescents exhibiting an intermediate performance pattern. In addition, we also observed a non-linear, inverted-U shaped relationship between age and valence-independent reversal learning, which was due to aberrant ability of adolescents to update behaviour in response to negative performance feedback. These findings indicate that the (linear or nonlinear) nature of the relationship between age and reward learning depends on the type of reward learning under study.

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