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Theoretical and empirical accounts suggest that adolescence is associated with heightened reward learning and impulsivity. Experimental tasks and computational models that can dissociate reward learning from the tendency to initiate actions impulsively (action initiation bias) are thus critical to characterise the mechanisms that drive developmental differences. However, existing work has rarely quantified both learning ability and action initiation, or it has relied on small samples. Here, using computational modelling of a learning task collected from a large sample (N = 742, 9-18 years, 11 countries), we test differences in reward and punishment learning and action initiation from childhood to adolescence. Computational modelling reveals that whilst punishment learning rates increase with age, reward learning remains stable. In parallel, action initiation biases decrease with age. Results are similar when considering pubertal stage instead of chronological age. We conclude that heightened reward responsivity in adolescence can reflect differences in action initiation rather than enhanced reward learning.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Commun

Publication Date