Learning and generalization from reward and punishment in opioid addiction

Catherine E. Myers*, Janice Rego, Paul Haber, Kirsten Morley, Kevin D. Beck, Lee Hogarth, Ahmed A. Moustafa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


This study adapts a widely-used acquired equivalence paradigm to investigate how opioid-addicted individuals learn from positive and negative feedback, and how they generalize this learning. The opioid-addicted group consisted of 33 participants with a history of heroin dependency currently in a methadone maintenance program; the control group consisted of 32 healthy participants without a history of drug addiction. All participants performed a novel variant of the acquired equivalence task, where they learned to map some stimuli to correct outcomes in order to obtain reward, and to map other stimuli to correct outcomes in order to avoid punishment; some stimuli were implicitly “equivalent” in the sense of being paired with the same outcome. On the initial training phase, both groups performed similarly on learning to obtain reward, but as memory load grew, the control group outperformed the addicted group on learning to avoid punishment. On a subsequent testing phase, the addicted and control groups performed similarly on retention trials involving previously-trained stimulus-outcome pairs, as well as on generalization trials to assess acquired equivalence. Since prior work with acquired equivalence tasks has associated stimulus-outcome learning with the nigrostriatal dopamine system, and generalization with the hippocampal region, the current results are consistent with basal ganglia dysfunction in the opioid-addicted patients. Further, a selective deficit in learning from punishment could contribute to processes by which addicted individuals continue to pursue drug use even at the cost of negative consequences such as loss of income and the opportunity to engage in other life activities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-131
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes


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