Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

AbstractReinforcement learning is a fundamental mechanism displayed by many species. However, adaptive behaviour depends not only on learning about actions and outcomes that affect ourselves, but also those that affect others. Using computational reinforcement learning models, we tested whether young (age 18–36) and older (age 60–80, total n = 152) adults learn to gain rewards for themselves, another person (prosocial), or neither individual (control). Detailed model comparison showed that a model with separate learning rates for each recipient best explained behaviour. Young adults learned faster when their actions benefitted themselves, compared to others. Compared to young adults, older adults showed reduced self-relevant learning rates but preserved prosocial learning. Moreover, levels of subclinical self-reported psychopathic traits (including lack of concern for others) were lower in older adults and the core affective-interpersonal component of this measure negatively correlated with prosocial learning. These findings suggest learning to benefit others is preserved across the lifespan with implications for reinforcement learning and theories of healthy ageing.

Original publication




Journal article


Nature Communications


Springer Science and Business Media LLC

Publication Date