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Front Neurosci. 2017 Oct 30;11:598. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2017.00598. eCollection 2017.

Cardiac Concomitants of Feedback and Prediction Error Processing in Reinforcement Learning.

Kastner L1,2, Kube J1,2,3, Villringer A1,2,4,5, Neumann J1,2,6.

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IFB Adiposity Diseases, Leipzig University Medical Center, Leipzig, Germany.
Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany.
Faculty 5-Business, Law and Social Sciences, Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg, Cottbus, Germany.
Clinic of Cognitive Neurology, University Hospital Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany.
Mind and Brain Institute, Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt-University, Berlin, Germany.
Department of Medical Engineering and Biotechnology, University of Applied Sciences, Jena, Germany.


Successful learning hinges on the evaluation of positive and negative feedback. We assessed differential learning from reward and punishment in a monetary reinforcement learning paradigm, together with cardiac concomitants of positive and negative feedback processing. On the behavioral level, learning from reward resulted in more advantageous behavior than learning from punishment, suggesting a differential impact of reward and punishment on successful feedback-based learning. On the autonomic level, learning and feedback processing were closely mirrored by phasic cardiac responses on a trial-by-trial basis: (1) Negative feedback was accompanied by faster and prolonged heart rate deceleration compared to positive feedback. (2) Cardiac responses shifted from feedback presentation at the beginning of learning to stimulus presentation later on. (3) Most importantly, the strength of phasic cardiac responses to the presentation of feedback correlated with the strength of prediction error signals that alert the learner to the necessity for behavioral adaptation. Considering participants' weight status and gender revealed obesity-related deficits in learning to avoid negative consequences and less consistent behavioral adaptation in women compared to men. In sum, our results provide strong new evidence for the notion that during learning phasic cardiac responses reflect an internal value and feedback monitoring system that is sensitive to the violation of performance-based expectations. Moreover, inter-individual differences in weight status and gender may affect both behavioral and autonomic responses in reinforcement-based learning.


gender; heart rate; obesity; prediction error; punishment; reinforcement learning; reward

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