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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal NeuroImage
Volume (Issue) 104
Page(s) 347 - 54
Title of proceedings NeuroImage
DOI 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.09.018

Open Access


Adolescence is associated with quickly changing environmental demands which require excellent adaptive skills and high cognitive flexibility. Feedback-guided adaptive learning and cognitive flexibility are driven by reward prediction error (RPE) signals, which indicate the accuracy of expectations and can be estimated using computational models. Despite the importance of cognitive flexibility during adolescence, only little is known about how RPE processing in cognitive flexibility deviates between adolescence and adulthood. In this study, we investigated the developmental aspects of cognitive flexibility by means of computational models and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We compared the neural and behavioral correlates of cognitive flexibility in healthy adolescents (12-16years) to adults performing a probabilistic reversal learning task. Using a modified risk-sensitive reinforcement learning model, we found that adolescents learned faster from negative RPEs than adults. The fMRI analysis revealed that within the RPE network, the adolescents had a significantly altered RPE-response in the anterior insula. This effect seemed to be mainly driven by increased responses to negative prediction errors. In summary, our findings indicate that decision making in adolescence goes beyond merely increased reward-seeking behavior and provides a developmental perspective to the behavioral and neural mechanisms underlying cognitive flexibility in the context of reinforcement learning.