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  1. Cross-species research suggests that exploratory behaviors increase during adolescence and relate to the social, affective, and risky behaviors characteristic of this developmental stage. However, how these typical adolescent behaviors manifest and relate in real-world settings remains unclear. Using geolocation tracking to quantify exploration—variability in daily movement patterns—over a 3-month period in 58 adolescents and adults (ages 13–27) in New York City, we investigated whether daily exploration varied with age and whether exploration related to social connectivity, risk taking, and momentary positive affect. In our cross-sectional sample, we found an association between daily exploration and age, with individuals near the transition to legal adulthood exhibiting the highest exploration levels. Days of higher exploration were associated with greater positive affect irrespective of age. Higher mean exploration was associated with greater social connectivity in all participants but was linked to higher risk taking selectively among adolescents. Our results highlight the interplay of exploration and socioemotional behaviors across development and suggest that societal norms may modulate their expression in naturalistic contexts.

     
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  2. Abstract

    Multiple learning systems allow individuals to flexibly respond to opportunities and challenges present in the environment. An evolutionarily conserved “Pavlovian” learning mechanism couples valence and action, promoting a tendency to approach cues associated with reward and to inhibit action in the face of anticipated punishment. Although this default response system may be adaptive, these hard-wired reactions can hinder the ability to learn flexible “instrumental” actions in pursuit of a goal. Such constraints on behavioral flexibility have been studied extensively in adults. However, the extent to which these valence-specific response tendencies bias instrumental learning across development remains poorly characterized. Here, we show that while Pavlovian response biases constrain flexible action learning in children and adults, these biases are attenuated in adolescents. This adolescent-specific reduction in Pavlovian bias may promote unbiased exploration of approach and avoidance responses, facilitating the discovery of rewarding behavior in the many novel contexts that adolescents encounter.

     
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  3. Abstract

    Beliefs about the controllability of positive or negative events in the environment can shape learning throughout the lifespan. Previous research has shown that adults’ learning is modulated by beliefs about the causal structure of the environment such that they update their value estimates to a lesser extent when the outcomes can be attributed to hidden causes. This study examined whether external causes similarly influenced outcome attributions and learning across development. Ninety participants, ages 7 to 25 years, completed a reinforcement learning task in which they chose between two options with fixed reward probabilities. Choices were made in three distinct environments in which different hidden agents occasionally intervened to generate positive, negative, or random outcomes. Participants’ beliefs about hidden-agent intervention aligned with the true probabilities of the positive, negative, or random outcome manipulation in each of the three environments. Computational modeling of the learning data revealed that while the choices made by both adults (ages 18–25) and adolescents (ages 13–17) were best fit by Bayesian reinforcement learning models that incorporate beliefs about hidden-agent intervention, those of children (ages 7–12) were best fit by a one learning rate model that updates value estimates based on choice outcomes alone. Together, these results suggest that while children demonstrate explicit awareness of the causal structure of the task environment, they do not implicitly use beliefs about the causal structure of the environment to guide reinforcement learning in the same manner as adolescents and adults.

     
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  4. Abstract

    Intervening on causal systems can illuminate their underlying structures. Past work has shown that, relative to adults, young children often make intervention decisions that appear to confirm a single hypothesis rather than those that optimally discriminate alternative hypotheses. Here, we investigated how the ability to make informative causal interventions changes across development. Ninety participants between the ages of 7 and 25 completed 40 different puzzles in which they had to intervene on various causal systems to determine their underlying structures. Each puzzle comprised a three‐ or four‐node computer chip with hidden wires. On each trial, participants viewed two possible arrangements of the chip's hidden wires and had to select a single node to activate. After observing the outcome of their intervention, participants selected a wire configuration and rated their confidence in their selection. We characterized participant choices with a Bayesian measurement model that indexed the extent to which participants selected nodes that would best disambiguate the two possible causal structures versus those that had high causal centrality in one of the two causal hypotheses but did not necessarily discriminate between them. Our model estimates revealed that the use of a discriminatory strategy increased through early adolescence. Further, developmental improvements in intervention strategy were related to changes in the ability to accurately judge the strength of evidence that interventions revealed, as indexed by participants' confidence in their selections. Our results suggest that improvements in causal information‐seeking extend into adolescence and may be driven by metacognitive sensitivity to the efficacy of previous interventions in discriminating competing ideas.

     
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  5. Abstract

    Adults struggle to recollect episodic memories from early life. This phenomenon—referred to as “infantile” and “childhood amnesia”—has been widely observed across species and is characterized by rapid forgetting from birth until early childhood. While a number of studies have focused on infancy, few studies have examined the persistence of memory for newly learned associations during the putative period of childhood amnesia. In this study, we investigated forgetting in 137 children ages 3–5 years old by using an interactive storybook task. We assessed associative memory between subjects after 5‐min, 24‐h, and 1‐week delay periods. Across all delays, we observed a significant increase in memory performance with age. While all ages demonstrated above‐chance memory performance after 5‐min and 24‐h delays, we observed chance‐level memory accuracy in 3‐year‐olds following a 1‐week delay. The observed age differences in associative memory support the proposal that hippocampal‐dependent memory systems undergo rapid development during the preschool years. These data have the potential to inform future work translating memory persistence and malleability research from rodent models to humans by establishing timescales at which we expect young children to forget newly learned associations.

     
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