Reward sensitivity and instrumental learning in patients with bipolar disorders: state dependency and diagnostic specificity

The present project aims at investigating reward sensitivity and instrumental learning, as well as its neuronal correlates in patients with bipolar disorders. Although alterations in these processes are characteristic of bipolar disorder, it is yet unknown whether they arise from the same or different root causes in the context of mania (e.g. pursuing short-term rewards while neglecting long-term negative consequences) and depression (e.g. diminished experience of pleasure from almost all activities and focusing on negative consequences). Therefore, we investigate bipolar patients in symptom-free phases, as well as during mania and depression regarding changes in brain regions which are important in reward sensitivity and instrumental learning. The results are supposed to inform on psychological and neurobiological causes for bipolar disorder and will be useful for preventing subsequent affective episodes. By incorporating comorbidity (in particular alcohol abuse and dependency), medication as well as a comparison with patient groups that show similar symptoms (patients with major depression, patients with borderline personality disorder, patients with alcohol dependency), we will examine to what extent these psychopathological mechanisms are specific to bipolar disorder.

Duration of study:
January 2012 - December 2015

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, collaborative research centre 636 (, project C6

Prof. Dr. Michèle Wessa (principal investigator),
Dr. Julia Linke,
Dr. Vanessa Scholz,
Dr. Bianca Kollmann,
Dr. Giannis Lois