Catecholamine Challenge Uncovers Distinct Mechanisms for Direct Versus Indirect, but Not Social Versus Non-Social, Learning

Jennifer L. Cook, Jennifer C. Swart, Monja I. Froböse, Andreea Diaconescu, Dirk E. M. Geurts, Hanneke E. M. den Ouden, Roshan Cools

Research output: Working paper/PreprintPreprint


Evidence that social and individual learning are at least partially dissociable sustains the belief that humans possess adaptive specialisations for social learning. However, in most extant paradigms, social information comprises an indirect source that can be used to supplement one’s own, direct, experience. Thus, social and individual learning differ both in terms of social nature (social versus non-social) and directness (indirect versus direct). To test whether the dissociation between social and individual learning is best explained in terms of social nature or directness, we used a catecholaminergic challenge known to modulate learning. Two groups completed a decision-making task which required direct learning, from own experience, and indirect learning from an additional source. The groups differed in terms of whether the indirect source was social or non-social. The catecholamine transporter blocker, methylphenidate, affected direct learning by improving adaptation to changes in the volatility of the environment but there was no effect of methylphenidate on learning from the social or non-social indirect source. Thus, we report positive evidence for a dissociable effect of methylphenidate on direct and indirect learning, but no evidence for a distinction between social and non-social. These data fail to support the adaptive specialisation view, instead providing evidence for distinct mechanisms for direct versus indirect learning.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2018


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