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Probability learning in normal and parkinson subjects: the effect of reward, context, and uncertainty

Erdeniz, Burak
In this thesis, the learning of probabilistic relationships between stimulus-action pairs is investigated under the probability learning paradigm. The effect of reward is investigated in the first three experiments. Additionally, the effect of context and uncertainty is investigated in the second and third experiments, respectively. The fourth experiment is the replication of the second experiment with a group of Parkinson patients where the effect of dopamine medication on probability learning is studied. In Experiment 1, we replicate the classical probability learning task by comparing monetary and non-monetary reward feedback. Probability learning behavior is observed in both monetary and non-monetary rewarding feedback conditions. However, no significant difference between the monetary and non-monetary feedback conditions is observed. In Experiment 2, a variation of the probability learning task which includes irrelevant contextual information is applied. Probability learning behavior is observed, and a significant effect is found between monetary and non-monetary feedback conditions. In Experiment 3; a probability learning task similar to that in Experiment 2 is applied, however, in this experiment, stimulus included relevant contextual information. As expected, due to the utilization of the relevant contextual information from the start of the experiment, no significant effect is found for probability learning behavior. The effect of uncertainty observed in this experiment is a replication of the reports in literature. Experiment 4 is identical to Experiment 2; except that the subject population is a group of dopamine medicated Parkinson patients and a group of age matched controls. This experiment is introduced to test the suggestions in the literature regarding the enhancement effect of dopamine medication in probability learning based on positive feedback conditions. In Experiment 4, probability learning behavior is observed in both groups, but the difference in learning performance between Parkinson patients and controls was not significant, probably due to the low number of subject recruited in the experiment. In addition to these investigations, learning mechanisms are also examined in Experiments 1 and 4. Our results indicate that subjects initially search for patterns which lead to probability learning. At the end of Experiments 1 and 4, upon learning the winning frequencies, subjects change their behavior and demonstrate maximization behavior, which makes them prefer continuously one option over the other.