Combining different strands of research is investigate learning in social environments. Building upon the computational learning models and the social preference models applied in Game Theory we developed a novel computational account of learning in competitive environment. The model suggests that people may not only maximize financial but also social goals (status). Furthermore, we have shown that the extend that people value social outcomes was associated with increased functional coupling between social brain regions (TPJ) and valuation brain regions (striatum and vmPFC), as well as increased basal testosterone in men. Currently we are extending these findings by relating them to pubertal hormones, oxytocin and social influence on adolescent risk-taking.
|Science of Learning & Development
In our studies we use computational learning models in combination with neuroimaging techniques to further specify learning processes that change across development. Our results showed that there is a shift in the balance of weights attributed to positive vs. negative feedback across adolescence, which was associated with increased functional coupling between the striatum and the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). In addition we found that even in simple learning paradigms there are difference in learning strategies and feedback processes in relation to IQ and level of education. Our findings on reward learning formed the starting point for further investigating learning in social context as well as differences in basic learning mechanisms related to clinical conditions.
Impulsive and Risky Decision-Making
Adolescence stands out as a particularly interesting developmental period because impulsive and risky behavior seems to be greater at this age than during childhood or adulthood. This increased impulsivity is a part of healthy development and is thought to be crucial for the acquisition of skills needed for adult life but also leads to unhealthy outcomes. Our investigations have focused on the different processes involved in risky and intertemporal decisions making and how their different developmental trajectories are related to changes in behavior and brain (specifically focused on cortico-strial connections). Our current research is aimed at better understand different the role of pubertal testosterone and emotion on impulsive choice, as well as investigating developmental trajectories of behavior in relation to different types of uncertainty.
** also read our Frontiers in Young Minds review: I Want It Now! The Neuroscience of Teenage Impulsivity
Adolescence is also a period of major social reorientation. Earlier studies had already shown that there were massive structural changes during that period, as well as changes in activity during various cognitive tasks. However, the relation between brain development and social cognition was until then mostly overlooked. We applied game theoretical paradigms to study social interactions and social decisions while participants were in the MRI scanner. These studies revealed that during adolescence individuals are increasingly taking the perspective of others and become less self-focused. This was related to changes in dynamics of the so-called social brain network. Specifically, we consistently found an increased engagement of the temporal parietal junction (TPJ) with age, which was linked to increasingly complex responses in context of fairness and trust. We are now extending these findings by examining social interactions between individuals that have a specific social bond (e.g. friendship), and the relation between social behavior and the social environment.
|Research statement Wouter van den Bos (2017) on the BOLD blog from the Jacobs Foundation: