Striatum-medial prefrontal cortex connectivity predicts developmental changes in reinforcement learning

Wouter Van Den Bos*, Michael X. Cohen, Thorsten Kahnt, Eveline A. Crone

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

129 Scopus citations


During development, children improve in learning from feedback to adapt their behavior. However, it is still unclear which neural mechanisms might underlie these developmental changes. In the current study, we used a reinforcement learning model to investigate neurodevelopmental changes in the representation and processing of learning signals. Sixty-seven healthy volunteers between ages 8 and 22 (children: 8-11 years, adolescents: 13-16 years, and adults: 18-22 years) performed a probabilistic learning task while in a magnetic resonance imaging scanner. The behavioral data demonstrated age differences in learning parameters with a stronger impact of negative feedback on expected value in children. Imaging data revealed that the neural representation of prediction errors was similar across age groups, but functional connectivity between the ventral striatum and the medial prefrontal cortex changed as a function of age. Furthermore, the connectivity strength predicted the tendency to alter expectations after receiving negative feedback. These findings suggest that the underlying mechanisms of developmental changes in learning are not related to differences in the neural representation of learning signals per se but rather in how learning signals are used to guide behavior and expectations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1247-1255
Number of pages9
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • brain maturation
  • development
  • fMRI
  • functional connectivity
  • reinforcement learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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