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Neural indices of associative learning in pre-adolescents: An event-related potential study

Jessica Hofmann, Hannah A D Keage, Rebecca Callahan, Scott Coussens, Owen Churches, Irina Baetu
Brain and Cognition 2019, 130: 11-19
This study investigated electroencephalography (EEG) correlates of prediction error during probabilistic learning in pre-adolescents. The detection of prediction errors, the discrepancies between experienced and anticipated outcomes, is thought to be a critical mechanism that drives new learning. Thirty-three typically developing pre-adolescents (mean age = 10.62 years) participated in an associative learning task in which they learned the probabilistic relationships between cues and outcome stimuli in the absence of explicit feedback. We investigated whether three outcome-locked event-related potentials (ERPs) could reflect prediction error processing: the P3, the late positive potential (LPP), and the feedback-related negativity (FRN). All ERP components investigated were sensitive to the magnitude of hypothetical prediction errors that were estimated based on each individual's learning performance. Higher estimated prediction errors generated larger P3 and LPP components, and a more negative FRN. These findings indicate that pre-adolescents are capable of undergoing probabilistic learning in the absence of explicit feedback, much in the same way as adults, and that prediction error processing is physiologically indexed via the FRN, P3 and LPP following outcome stimuli.


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