Impaired dimensional selection but intact use of reward feedback during visual discrimination learning in Parkinson's disease

Rachel Swainson, D. Sengupta, T. Shetty, L. H. Watkins, B. A. Summers, B. J. Sahakian, C. E. Polkey, R. A. Barker, T. W. Robbins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


It has been suggested that Parkinson's disease (PD) impairs the ability to learn on the basis of reward or reinforcing feedback i.e., by trial-and-error. In many learning tasks, particular 'dimensions' of stimulus information are relevant whilst others are irrelevant; therefore, efficient performance depends on identifying the dimensions of these 'compound' stimuli and selecting the relevant dimension for further processing. We investigated the ability of patients with PD, as well as patients with Huntington's disease and patients with frontal or temporal lobe lesions, to learn visual discriminations which required either a number of associations to be learned concurrently (the 'eight-pair' task) or the selection of information from compound stimuli (the 'five-dimension' task), both tasks being learned by trial-and-error.

None of the basal ganglia disorder patient groups was impaired on the eight-pair task, militating against a crucial role for these brain structures in trial-and-error learning per se. Patients with mild, medicated PD, but not unmedicated PD patients, were impaired at identifying all five feature dimensions in the five-dimension task, implying dopaminergic 'overdosing' of the ability to analyse compound stimuli in terms of their component dimensions. Temporal lobe lesion patients performed similarly, suggesting that the temporal lobe may be the site of the medication overdose effect. Patients with severe, medicated PD were impaired at compound discrimination learning on the five-dimension task in the absence of an underlying impairment in identifying component stimulus dimensions; this pattern resembled that seen in Huntington's disease and frontal lobe lesion patients, implying that fronto-striatal circuitry is involved in the formation of rules based upon selected stimulus dimensions. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1290-1304
Number of pages14
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2006


  • basal ganglia
  • cognition
  • dopamine overdose
  • frontal lobe
  • temporal lobe
  • Huntington's-Disease
  • cognitive deficits
  • temporal-lobe
  • dopaminergic medication
  • visuospatial memory
  • cortex
  • performance
  • modulation
  • mechanisms


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