Learning Rates Are Not All the Same: The Interpretation of Computational Model Parameters Depends on the Context

Reinforcement Learning (RL) has revolutionized the cognitive and brain sciences, explaining behavior from simple conditioning to problem solving, across the life span, and anchored in brain function. However, discrepancies in results are increasingly apparent between studies, particularly in the developmental literature. To better understand these, we investigated to which extent parameters generalize between tasks and models, and capture specific and uniquely interpretable (neuro)cognitive processes. 291 participants aged 8-30 years completed three learning tasks in a single session, and were fitted using state-of-the-art RL models. RL decision noise/exploration parameters generalized well between tasks, decreasing between ages 8-17. Learning rates for negative feedback did not generalize, and learning rates for positive feedback showed intermediate generalizability, dependent on task similarity. These findings can explain discrepancies in the existing literature. Future research therefore needs to carefully consider task characteristics when relating findings across studies, and develop strategies to computationally model how context impacts behavior.

Maria K Eckstein, Sarah L Master, Liyu Xia, Ronald E Dahl, Linda Wilbrecht, Anne Gabrielle Eva Collins, Learning Rates Are Not All the Same: The Interpretation of Computational Model Parameters Depends on the Context (May 2021), https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.05.28.446162v1
doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.05.28.446162