1. Computational and Systems Biology
  2. Neuroscience
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Sex differences in learning from exploration

  1. Cathy S Chen
  2. Evan Knep
  3. Autumn Han
  4. R Becket Ebitz  Is a corresponding author
  5. Nicola Grissom  Is a corresponding author
  1. University of Minnesota, United States
  2. Princeton University, United States
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2021;10:e69748 doi: 10.7554/eLife.69748

Abstract

Sex-based modulation of cognitive processes could set the stage for individual differences in vulnerability to neuropsychiatric disorders. While value-based decision making processes in particular have been proposed to be influenced by sex differences, the overall correct performance in decision making tasks often show variable or minimal differences across sexes. Computational tools allow us to uncover latent variables that define different decision making approaches, even in animals with similar correct performance. Here, we quantify sex differences in mice in the latent variables underlying behavior in a classic value-based decision making task: a restless 2-armed bandit. While male and female mice had similar accuracy, they achieved this performance via different patterns of exploration. Male mice tended to make more exploratory choices overall, largely because they appeared to get 'stuck' in exploration once they had started. Female mice tended to explore less but learned more quickly during exploration. Together, these results suggest that sex exerts stronger influences on decision making during periods of learning and exploration than during stable choices. Exploration during decision making is altered in people diagnosed with addictions, depression, and neurodevelopmental disabilities, pinpointing the neural mechanisms of exploration as a highly translational avenue for conferring sex-modulated vulnerability to neuropsychiatric diagnoses.

Data availability

All behavioral data have been deposited in generic database (Dyrad) with accession link https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.z612jm6c0

The following data sets were generated
    1. Chen CS
    (2021) Sex differences in learning from exploration
    Dryad Digital Repository, doi:10.5061/dryad.z612jm6c0.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Cathy S Chen

    University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-2506-8522
  2. Evan Knep

    University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Autumn Han

    University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  4. R Becket Ebitz

    Department of Neurosciences, Princeton University, Princeton, United States
    For correspondence
    rebitz@gmail.com
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  5. Nicola Grissom

    University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, United States
    For correspondence
    ngrissom@umn.edu
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-3630-8130

Funding

National Institutes of Health (R01MH123661)

  • Nicola Grissom

National Institutes of Health (P50MH119569)

  • Nicola Grissom

Brain and Behavior Research Foundation

  • R Becket Ebitz

Mistletoe Foundation

  • R Becket Ebitz

Fonds de Recherche du Québec - Santé

  • R Becket Ebitz

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Ethics

Animal experimentation: This study was performed in strict accordance with the recommendations in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals of the National Institutes of Health. All of the animals were handled according to approved institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC) protocols (#1912-37717A) of the University of Minnesota.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Alicia Izquierdo, University of California, Los Angeles, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: April 24, 2021
  2. Accepted: November 18, 2021
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: November 19, 2021 (version 1)
  4. Accepted Manuscript updated: November 22, 2021 (version 2)

Copyright

© 2021, Chen et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

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