Investigation of reward learning and feedback sensitivity in non-clinical participants with a history of early life stress

Matthew P Wilkinson, Chloe L Slaney, Jack R Mellor, Emma S J Robinson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
34 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Early life stress (ELS) is an important risk factor for the development of depression. Impairments in reward learning and feedback sensitivity are suggested to be an intermediate phenotype in depression aetiology therefore we hypothesised that healthy adults with a history of ELS would exhibit reward processing deficits independent of any current depressive symptoms. We recruited 64 adults with high levels of ELS and no diagnosis of a current mental health disorder and 65 controls. Participants completed the probabilistic reversal learning task and probabilistic reward task followed by depression, anhedonia, social status, and stress scales. Participants with high levels of ELS showed decreased positive feedback sensitivity in the probabilistic reversal learning task compared to controls. High ELS participants also trended towards possessing a decreased model-free learning rate. This was coupled with a decreased learning ability in the acquisition phase of block 1 following the practice session. Neither group showed a reward induced response bias in the probabilistic reward task however high ELS participants exhibited decreased stimuli discrimination. Overall, these data suggest that healthy participants without a current mental health diagnosis but with high levels of ELS show deficits in positive feedback sensitivity and reward learning in the probabilistic reversal learning task that are distinct from depressed patients. These deficits may be relevant to increased depression vulnerability.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0260444
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume16
Issue number12
Early online date10 Dec 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Wilkinson et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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