Learning which of our behaviors benefit others contributes to social bonding and being liked by others. An important period for the development of (pro)social behavior is adolescence, in which peers become more salient and relationships intensify. It is, however, unknown how learning to benefit others develops across adolescence and what the underlying cognitive and neural mechanisms are. In this functional neuroimaging study, we assessed learning for self and others (i.e., prosocial learning) and the concurring neural tracking of prediction errors across adolescence (ages 9-21, N=74). Participants performed a two-choice probabilistic reinforcement learning task in which outcomes resulted in monetary consequences for themselves, an unknown other, or no one. Participants from all ages were able to learn for themselves and others, but learning for others showed a more protracted developmental trajectory. Prediction errors for self were observed in the ventral striatum and showed no age-related differences. However, prediction error coding for others was specifically observed in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and showed age-related increases. These results reveal insights into the computational mechanisms of learning for others across adolescence, and highlight that learning for self and others show different age-related patterns.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience