How do children and adults learn from reward and punishment? How do they learn what results in good and bad outcomes for other people? Patricia Lockwood studies the psychological and biological basis underlying these important abilities, how they change across the lifespan, and in psychiatric and neurological disorders. She uses several methods including experimental tasks, brain imaging, computational modelling, patient studies and developmental studies. She draws on theories from animal learning and decision neuroscience to capture how, when, and why people learn and make choices that have consequences for themselves and other people.
My plans for the fellowship period
Learning the consequences of our choices is vital in the classroom and beyond. A failure in learning is linked to poor educational outcomes, reduced employment, and altered mental health. However, there are substantial differences between children in their learning ability that may arise due to interlinked social, economic, and biological factors. Previous research has often measured these factors in isolation and never tested them using the most sophisticated tools to assess young people’s speed of learning. Using big data, brain imaging, measures of individual differences and mathematical modelling, I plan to examine ‘learning rates’ – how quickly children learn associations between their choices and outcomes, to identify the factors that drive learning across development.
In the first line of research, I will analyze pre-existing data from a multisite, Europe-wide database of youths who completed a learning task to test the social and economic factors that predict individual differences in learning rates. In the second line of research, I plan to link these differences in learning rates and social functioning to brain structure and function.
How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
Understanding how learning is shaped by social and economic factors, that vary widely within and between different countries, will lay the foundation for effective educational and clinical interventions on a global scale. The findings of this research will document the healthy development of learning in a large sample so that we can understand how healthy learning can go wrong in developmental disorders. Finally, I will work closely with filmmakers, artists and young people to co-design accessible engagement materials to communicate my findings to broad audiences so that as many people as possible can learn about what we find.