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Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have immediate effects on synaptic levels of serotonin but their therapeutic effects are often delayed. This delay has been suggested to reflect time required for new learning and therefore that SSRIs might be having effects on the learning process. We examined the effects of elevating serotonin levels, through short-term SSRI administration (escitalopram), on learning about perceptions of instrumental control. A randomised double blind procedure was used to allocate healthy people, categorised as mildly depressed (high BDI⩾10: n=76) or not depressed (low BDI⩽5: n=78) to either a drug (escitalopram, 10mg/7days) or placebo control group. Following treatment, participants were trained with a simple task that involved learning the effectiveness of an instrumental action (key press) and the background context at eliciting an outcome (auditory cue) where there was no programmed contingency. The effects of the drug were (i) to moderate response rates and (ii) to enhance sensitivity to the background or context rate of occurrence of the outcome. These findings suggest that serotonin modulates learning about the long-term rate of outcomes, which supports perception of instrumental control, and that this may provide a clue to the mechanism for supporting the development of the therapeutic effects of the drug.

Original publication




Journal article


Neurobiol Learn Mem

Publication Date





76 - 82


Context, Depression, Escitalopram, Learning, Perceived control, Response rate, SSRI, Serotonin, Adolescent, Adult, Citalopram, Depression, Double-Blind Method, Female, Humans, Learning, Male, Middle Aged, Psychomotor Performance, Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors, Young Adult