Catecholaminergic modulation of meta-learning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Authors

  • Jennifer Swart
  • Monja Frobose
  • Andreea Diaconescu
  • Dirk Geurts
  • Hanneke E M Den Ouden
  • Roshan Cools

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Radboud University
  • University of Zurich
  • University of Basel
  • University of Toronto
  • Radboud University Medical Centre

Abstract

The remarkable expedience of human learning is thought to be underpinned by meta-learning, whereby slow accumulative learning processes are rapidly adjusted to the current learning environment. To date, the neurobiological implementation of meta-learning remains unclear. A burgeoning literature argues for an important role for the catecholamines dopamine and noradrenaline in meta-learning. Here, we tested the hypothesis that enhancing catecholamine function modulates the ability to optimise a meta-learning parameter (learning rate) as a function of environmental volatility. 102 participants completed a task which required learning in stable phases, where the probability of reinforcement was constant, and volatile phases, where probabilities changed every 10–30 trials. The catecholamine transporter blocker methylphenidate enhanced participants’ ability to adapt learning rate: Under methylphenidate, compared with placebo, participants exhibited higher learning rates in volatile relative to stable phases. Furthermore, this effect was significant only with respect to direct learning based on the participants’ own experience, there was no significant effect on inferred-value learning where stimulus values had to be inferred. These data demonstrate a causal link between catecholaminergic modulation and the adjustment of the meta-learning parameter learning rate.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere51439
Pages (from-to)1-38
Number of pages38
JournalElife
Volume8
Publication statusPublished - 18 Dec 2019

Keywords

  • meta-learning, dopamine, noradrenaline, volatility, learning analytics