A neurocomputational investigation of reinforcement-based decision making as a candidate latent vulnerability mechanism in maltreated children

Mattia I Gerin, Vanessa B Puetz, R James R Blair, Stuart White, Arjun Sethi, Ferdinand Hoffmann, Amy L Palmer, Essi Viding, Eamon J McCrory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Alterations in reinforcement-based decision making may be associated with increased psychiatric vulnerability in children who have experienced maltreatment. A probabilistic passive avoidance task and a model-based functional magnetic resonance imaging analytic approach were implemented to assess the neurocomputational components underlying decision making: (a) reinforcement expectancies (the representation of the outcomes associated with a stimulus) and (b) prediction error signaling (the ability to detect the differences between expected and actual outcomes). There were three main findings. First, the maltreated group (n = 18; mean age = 13), relative to nonmaltreated peers (n = 19; mean age = 13), showed decreased activity during expected value processing in a widespread network commonly associated with reinforcement expectancies representation, including the striatum (especially the caudate), the orbitofrontal cortex, and medial temporal structures including the hippocampus and insula. Second, consistent with previously reported hyperresponsiveness to negative cues in the context of childhood abuse, the maltreated group showed increased prediction error signaling in the middle cingulate gyrus, somatosensory cortex, superior temporal gyrus, and thalamus. Third, the maltreated group showed increased activity in frontodorsal regions and in the putamen during expected value representation. These findings suggest that early adverse environments disrupt the development of decision-making processes, which in turn may compromise psychosocial functioning in ways that increase latent vulnerability to psychiatric disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1689-1705
Number of pages17
JournalDevelopment and psychopathology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2017


  • Adolescent
  • Brain/diagnostic imaging
  • Child
  • Child Abuse/psychology
  • Decision Making/physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Reinforcement, Psychology

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