Reward-motivated memories influence new learning across development

Alexandra O. Cohen, Camille V. Phaneuf, Gail M. Rosenbaum, Morgan M. Glover, Kristen N. Avallone, Xinxu Shen, Catherine A. Hartley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previously rewarding experiences can influence choices in new situations. Past work has demonstrated that existing reward associations can either help or hinder future behaviors and that there is substantial individual variability in the transfer of value across contexts. Developmental changes in reward sensitivity may also modulate the impact of prior reward associations on later goal-directed behavior. The current study aimed to characterize how reward associations formed in the past affected learning in the present from childhood to adulthood. Participants completed a reinforcement learning paradigm using high- and low-reward stimuli from a task completed 24 h earlier, as well as novel stimuli, as choice options. We found that prior high-reward associations impeded learning across all ages. We then assessed how individual differences in the prioritization of high- versus low-reward associations in memory impacted new learning. Greater high-reward memory prioritization was associated with worse learning performance for previously high-reward relative to low-reward stimuli across age. Adolescents also showed impeded early learning regardless of individual differences in high-reward memory prioritization. Detrimental effects of previous reward on choice behavior did not persist beyond learning. These findings indicate that prior reward associations proactively interfere with future learning from childhood to adulthood and that individual differences in reward-related memory prioritization influence new learning across age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-429
Number of pages9
JournalLearning and Memory
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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