Author(s): Waltz JA, Gold JM
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Abstract Impairments in feedback processing and reinforcement learning appear to be prominent aspects of schizophrenia (SZ), which may relate to symptoms of the disorder. Evidence from cognitive neuroscience investigations indicates that disparate brain systems may underlie different kinds of feedback-driven learning. The ability to rapidly shift response tendencies in the face of negative feedback, when reinforcement contingencies are reversed, is an important type of learning thought to depend on ventral prefrontal cortex (PFC). Schizophrenia has long been associated with dysfunction in dorsolateral areas of PFC, but evidence for ventral PFC impairment in more mixed. In order to assess whether SZ patients experience particular difficulty in carrying out a cognitive function commonly linked to ventral PFC function, we administered to 34 patients and 26 controls a modified version of an established probabilistic reversal learning task from the experimental literature [Cools, R., Clark, L., Owen, A.M., Robbins, T.W., 2002. Defining the neural mechanisms of probabilistic reversal learning using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging. J. Neurosci. 22, 4563-4567]. Although SZ patients and controls performed similarly on the initial acquisition of probabilistic contingencies, patients showed substantial learning impairments when reinforcement contingencies were reversed, achieving significantly fewer reversals [chi(2)(6)=15.717, p=0.008]. Even when analyses were limited to subjects who acquired all probabilistic contingencies initially (22 patients and 20 controls), patients achieved significantly fewer reversals [chi(2)(3)=9.408, p=0.024]. These results support the idea that ventral PFC dysfunction is a prevalent aspect of schizophrenic pathophysiology, which may contribute to deficits in reinforcement learning exhibited by patients. Further studies are required to investigate the roles of dopaminergic systems in these impairments.
This article was published in Schizophr Res
and referenced in Journal of Alzheimers Disease & Parkinsonism