Research Article: Gender differences in reward and punishment for monetary and social feedback in children: An ERP study

Date Published: March 27, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Ying Ding, Encong Wang, Yuchen Zou, Yan Song, Xue Xiao, Wanyi Huang, Yanfang Li, Hengyi Rao.


Gender differences in feedback processing have been observed among adolescents and adults through event-related potentials. However, information on whether and how this feedback processing is affected by feedback valence, feedback type, and individual sensitivity in reward/punishment among children remains minimal. In this study, we used a guessing game task coupled with electroencephalography to investigate gender differences in feedback processing, in which feedback to reward and punishment was presented in the context of monetary and social conditions. Results showed that boys were less likely to switch their response after punishment, had generally less feedback-related negativity (FRN) amplitude, and longer FRN latency in monetary and punishment conditions than girls. Moreover, FRN for monetary punishment, which is related to individual difference in reward sensitivity, was observed only in girls. The study provides gender-specific evidence for the neural processing of feedback, which may offer educational guidance for appropriate feedback for girls and boys.

Partial Text

The appropriate processing of external feedback and changing behavior is indispensable for optimizing learning and goal-directed behavior [1]. The cognitive process of monitoring external feedback is called “feedback processing” [2]. The development of feedback processing is particularly important during childhood given that children are constantly facing new and frequently challenging learning experiences in social and educational settings [3]. Moreover, studies have found that the neurophysiological mechanisms of several cognitive skills are differentiated between boys and girls during childhood [4]. These skills include error processing, which reflects the same underlying reinforcement learning process as feedback processing [5]. Behavioral studies have also found gender differences in feedback processing during childhood [6, 7]. However, relatively few studies have been conducted on gender differences in the electrophysiological response to performance feedback during childhood.

The current study examined gender differences in the neural responses to reward and punishment both in the contexts of monetary and social feedback during childhood. In addition, we further explored the relationship between the neural correlation of feedback processing and individual difference of sensitivity to reward and sensitivity to punishment for both boys and girls. The results showed that the FRN obtained in our study occurred between 200–300 ms and were maximal in the frontocentral regions, which were similar to those observed in considerable FRN literature about adults [9, 10, 16, 41, 42, 43, 44] and children [25, 45]. Our results showed that gender differences occurred in feedback processing. In particular, boys were less likely to switch their response after punishment, and had generally less FRN amplitude and longer FRN latency under monetary and punishment conditions than girls. In addition, FRN for monetary punishment, which was related to individual difference in reward sensitivity, was observed only in girls.




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