Flexibility in valenced reinforcement learning computations across development

Kate Nussenbaum, Juan A. Velez, Bradli T. Washington, Hannah E. Hamling, Catherine A. Hartley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Optimal integration of positive and negative outcomes during learning varies depending on an environment's reward statistics. The present study investigated the extent to which children, adolescents, and adults (N = 142 8–25 year-olds, 55% female, 42% White, 31% Asian, 17% mixed race, and 8% Black; data collected in 2021) adapt their weighting of better-than-expected and worse-than-expected outcomes when learning from reinforcement. Participants made choices across two contexts: one in which weighting positive outcomes more heavily than negative outcomes led to better performance, and one in which the reverse was true. Reinforcement learning modeling revealed that across age, participants shifted their valence biases in accordance with environmental structure. Exploratory analyses revealed strengthening of context-dependent flexibility with increasing age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1601-1615
Number of pages15
JournalChild development
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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