Delaying feedback compensates for impaired reinforcement learning in developmental dyslexia

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A theoretical framework suggests that developmental dyslexia is characterized by abnormalities in brain structures underlying the procedural learning and memory systems while the declarative learning and memory systems are presumed to remain intact or even enhanced (Procedural Deficit Hypothesis). This notion has been supported by a substantial body of research, which focused on each system independently. However, less attention has been paid to interactions between these memory systems which may provide insights as to learning situations and conditions in which learning in dyslexia can be improved. The current study was undertaken to examine these important but unresolved issues. To this end, probabilistic reinforcement learning and episodic memory tasks were examined in participants with dyslexia and neurotypicals simultaneously within a single task. Feedback timing presentation was manipulated, building on prior research indicating that delaying feedback timing shifts striatal-based probabilistic learning, to become more hippocampal-dependent. It was hypothesized that if the procedural learning and memory systems are impaired in dyslexia, performance will be impaired under conditions that encourage procedural memory engagement (immediate feedback trials) but not under conditions that promote declarative memory processing (long delayed feedback trials). It was also predicted that the ability to incidentally acquire episodic information would be preserved in dyslexia. The results supported these predictions. Participants with dyslexia were impaired in probabilistic learning of cue-outcome associations compared to neurotypicals in an immediate feedback condition, but not when feedback on choices was presented after a long delay. Furthermore, participants with dyslexia demonstrated similar performance to neurotypicals in a task requiring incidental episodic memory formation. These findings attest to a dissociation between procedural-based and declarative-based learning in developmental dyslexia within a single task, a finding that adds discriminative validity to the Procedural Deficit Hypothesis. Just as important, the present findings suggest that training conditions designed to shift the load from midbrain/striatal systems to declarative memory mechanisms have the potential to compensate for impaired learning in developmental dyslexia.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number107518
JournalNeurobiology of Learning and Memory
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Declarative memory
  • Delayed feedback
  • Developmental dyslexia
  • Probabilistic reinforcement learning
  • Procedural memory
  • Striatum

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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