Altered risk-based decision making following adolescent alcohol use results from an imbalance in reinforcement learning in rats

Jeremy J Clark, Nicholas A Nasrallah, Andrew S Hart, Anne L Collins, Ilene L Bernstein, Paul E M Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Alcohol use during adolescence has profound and enduring consequences on decision-making under risk. However, the fundamental psychological processes underlying these changes are unknown. Here, we show that alcohol use produces over-fast learning for better-than-expected, but not worse-than-expected, outcomes without altering subjective reward valuation. We constructed a simple reinforcement learning model to simulate altered decision making using behavioral parameters extracted from rats with a history of adolescent alcohol use. Remarkably, the learning imbalance alone was sufficient to simulate the divergence in choice behavior observed between these groups of animals. These findings identify a selective alteration in reinforcement learning following adolescent alcohol use that can account for a robust change in risk-based decision making persisting into later life.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere37357
JournalPLoS One
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2012


  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Animals
  • Choice Behavior
  • Computer Simulation
  • Conditioning, Operant
  • Decision Making
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reinforcement (Psychology)
  • Risk

Cite this