J. Neurosci. 2013;33 9905-9912
We examined whether older adults differ from younger adults in how they learn from rewarding and aversive outcomes. Human participants were asked to either learn to choose actions that lead to monetary reward or learn to avoid actions that lead to monetary losses. To examine age differences in the neurophysiological mechanisms of learning, we applied a combination of computational modeling and fMRI. Behavioral results showed age-related impairments in learning from reward but not in learning from monetary losses. Consistent with these results, we observed age-related reductions in BOLD activity during learning from reward in the ventromedial PFC. Furthermore, the model-based fMRI analysis revealed a reduced responsivity of the ventral striatum to reward prediction errors during learning in older than younger adults. This age-related reduction in striatal sensitivity to reward prediction errors may result from a decline in phasic dopaminergic learning signals in the elderly.