Anhedonia and sensitivity to punishment in schizophrenia, depression and opiate use disorder

Paolo Ossola, Neil Garrett, Letizia Biso, Anthony Bishara, Carlo Marchesi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Background: From a behavioural perspective anhedonia is defined as diminished interest in the engagement of pleasurable activities. Despite its presence across a range of psychiatric disorders, the cognitive processes that give rise to anhedonia remain unclear.

Methods: Here we examine whether anhedonia is associated with learning from positive and negative outcomes in patients diagnosed with major depression, schizophrenia and opiate use disorder alongside a healthy control group. Responses in the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test – a task associated with healthy prefrontal cortex function – were fitted to the Attentional Learning Model (ALM) which separates learning from positive and negative feedback.

Results: Learning from punishment, but not from reward, was negatively associated with anhedonia beyond other socio-demographic, cognitive and clinical variables. This impairment in punishment sensitivity was also associated with faster responses following negative feedback, independently of the degree of surprise.

Limitations: Future studies should test the longitudinal association between punishment sensitivity and anhedonia also in other clinical populations controlling for the effect of specific medications.

Conclusions: Together the results reveal that anhedonic subjects, because of their negative expectations, are less sensitive to negative feedbacks; this might lead them to persist in actions leading to negative outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-328
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date6 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2023


  • Anhedonia
  • Computational psychiatry
  • Learning
  • Punishment
  • Reward

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