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Anhedonia in relation to reward and effort learning in young people with depression symptoms

Frey, A.-L., Kaya, M. S., Adeniyi, I. and McCabe, C. (2023) Anhedonia in relation to reward and effort learning in young people with depression symptoms. Brain Sciences, 13 (2). 341. ISSN 2076-3425

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To link to this item DOI: 10.3390/brainsci13020341


Anhedonia, a central depression symptom, is associated with impairments in reward processing. However, it is not well understood which sub-components of reward processing (anticipation, motivation, consummation, and learning) are impaired in association with anhedonia in depression. In particular, it is unclear how learning about different rewards and the effort needed to obtain them might be associated with anhedonia and depression symptoms. Therefore, we examined learning in young people (N = 132, mean age 20, range 17–25 yrs.) with a range of depression and anhedonia symptoms using a probabilistic instrumental learning task. The task required participants to learn which options to choose to maximize their reward outcomes across three conditions (chocolate taste, puppy images, or money) and to minimize the physical effort required to obtain the rewards. Additionally, we collected questionnaire measures of anticipatory and consummatory anhedonia, as well as subjective reports of “liking”, “wanting” and “willingness to exert effort” for the rewards used in the task. We found that as anticipatory anhedonia increased, subjective liking and wanting of rewards decreased. Moreover, higher anticipatory anhedonia was significantly associated with lower reward learning accuracy, and participants demonstrated significantly higher reward learning than effort learning accuracy. To our knowledge, this is the first study observing an association of anhedonia with reward liking, wanting, and learning when reward and effort learning are measured simultaneously. Our findings suggest an impaired ability to learn from rewarding outcomes could contribute to anhedonia in young people. Future longitudinal research is needed to confirm this and reveal the specific aspects of reward learning that predict anhedonia. These aspects could then be targeted by novel anhedonia interventions.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
ID Code:110702


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