Neural regions associated with gain-loss frequency and average reward in older and younger adults. Academic Article uri icon


  • Research on the biological basis of reinforcement-learning has focused on how brain regions track expected value based on average reward. However, recent work suggests that humans are more attuned to reward frequency. Furthermore, older adults are less likely to use expected values to guide choice than younger adults. This raises the question of whether brain regions assumed to be sensitive to average reward, like the medial and lateral PFC, also track reward frequency, and whether there are age-based differences. Older (60-81 years) and younger (18-30 years) adults performed the Soochow Gambling task, which separates reward frequency from average reward, while undergoing fMRI. Overall, participants preferred options that provided negative net payoffs, but frequent gains. Older adults improved less over time, were more reactive to recent negative outcomes, and showed greater frequency-related activation in several regions, including DLPFC. We also found broader recruitment of prefrontal and parietal regions associated with frequency value and reward prediction errors in older adults, which may indicate compensation. The results suggest greater reliance on average reward for younger adults than older adults.

published proceedings

  • Neurobiol Aging

author list (cited authors)

  • Don, H. J., Davis, T., Ray, K. L., McMahon, M. C., Cornwall, A. C., Schnyer, D. M., & Worthy, D. A.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Don, Hilary J||Davis, Tyler||Ray, Kimberly L||McMahon, Megan C||Cornwall, Astin C||Schnyer, David M||Worthy, Darrell A

publication date

  • January 2022