Distinct reinforcement learning profiles distinguish between language and attentional neurodevelopmental disorders

Noyli Nissan, Uri Hertz, Nitzan Shahar, Yafit Gabay*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Theoretical models posit abnormalities in cortico-striatal pathways in two of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders (Developmental dyslexia, DD, and Attention deficit hyperactive disorder, ADHD), but it is still unclear what distinct cortico-striatal dysfunction might distinguish language disorders from others that exhibit very different symptomatology. Although impairments in tasks that depend on the cortico-striatal network, including reinforcement learning (RL), have been implicated in both disorders, there has been little attempt to dissociate between different types of RL or to compare learning processes in these two types of disorders. The present study builds upon prior research indicating the existence of two learning manifestations of RL and evaluates whether these processes can be differentiated in language and attention deficit disorders. We used a two-step RL task shown to dissociate model-based from model-free learning in human learners. Results: Our results show that, relative to neurotypicals, DD individuals showed an impairment in model-free but not in model-based learning, whereas in ADHD the ability to use both model-free and model-based learning strategies was significantly compromised. Conclusions: Thus, learning impairments in DD may be linked to a selective deficit in the ability to form action-outcome associations based on previous history, whereas in ADHD some learning deficits may be related to an incapacity to pursue rewards based on the tasks' structure. Our results indicate how different patterns of learning deficits may underlie different disorders, and how computation-minded experimental approaches can differentiate between them.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6
JournalBehavioral and Brain Functions
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


FundersFunder number
Joy Ventures
National Institute of Psychobiology in Israel
Israel Science Foundation734/22


    • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
    • Developmental dyslexia
    • Model-based vs. Model-free reinforcement learning
    • Two-step task


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