Frontiers in Psychology (2018-03-01)

Working Memory and Reinforcement Schedule Jointly Determine Reinforcement Learning in Children: Potential Implications for Behavioral Parent Training

  • Elien Segers,
  • Tom Beckers,
  • Hilde Geurts,
  • Laurence Claes,
  • Laurence Claes,
  • Marina Danckaerts,
  • Saskia van der Oord,
  • Saskia van der Oord

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 9


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Introduction: Behavioral Parent Training (BPT) is often provided for childhood psychiatric disorders. These disorders have been shown to be associated with working memory impairments. BPT is based on operant learning principles, yet how operant principles shape behavior (through the partial reinforcement (PRF) extinction effect, i.e., greater resistance to extinction that is created when behavior is reinforced partially rather than continuously) and the potential role of working memory therein is scarcely studied in children. This study explored the PRF extinction effect and the role of working memory therein using experimental tasks in typically developing children.Methods: Ninety-seven children (age 6–10) completed a working memory task and an operant learning task, in which children acquired a response-sequence rule under either continuous or PRF (120 trials), followed by an extinction phase (80 trials). Data of 88 children were used for analysis.Results: The PRF extinction effect was confirmed: We observed slower acquisition and extinction in the PRF condition as compared to the continuous reinforcement (CRF) condition. Working memory was negatively related to acquisition but not extinction performance.Conclusion: Both reinforcement contingencies and working memory relate to acquisition performance. Potential implications for BPT are that decreasing working memory load may enhance the chance of optimally learning through reinforcement.