Previous research has identified the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) as an important node in the neural network underlying decision making in primates. Decision making can, however, be studied under large variety of circumstances, ranging from the standard well-controlled lab situation to more natural, stochastic settings during which multiple agents interact. Here, we illustrate how these different varieties of decision making studied can influence theories of ACC function in monkeys. Converging evidence from unit recordings and lesions studies now suggest that the ACC is important for interpreting outcome information according to the current task context to guide future action selection. We then apply this framework to the study of human ACC function and discuss its potential implications.
Anterior cingulate cortex; ACC; decision making; action selection; reward; monkey; human; foraging theory
A recent study has proposed that posterior regions of the medial frontal cortex (pMFC) learn to predict the likelihood of errors occurring in a given task context. A key prediction of the error-likelihood (EL) hypothesis is that the pMFC should exhibit enhanced activity to cues that are predictive of high compared with low error rates. We conducted 3 experiments, 2 using functional neuroimaging and 1 using event-related potentials, to test this prediction in human volunteers. The 3 experiments replicated previous research in showing clear evidence of increased pMFC activity associated with errors, conflict, negative feedback, and other aspects of task performance. However, none of the experiments yielded evidence for an effect of cue-signaled EL on pMFC activity or any indication that such an effect developed with learning. We conclude that although the EL hypothesis presents an elegant integrative account of pMFC function, it requires additional empirical support to remain tenable.
ACC; dopamine; error processing; fMRI; reinforcement learning; stop signal
Behavioural economic studies, involving limited numbers of choices, have provided key insights into neural decision-making mechanisms. By contrast, animals’ foraging choices arise in the context of sequences of encounters with prey/food. On each encounter the animal chooses to engage or whether the environment is sufficiently rich that searching elsewhere is merited. The cost of foraging is also critical. We demonstrate humans can alternate between two modes of choice, comparative decision-making and foraging, dependent on distinct neural mechanisms in ventromedial prefrontal (vmPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) employing distinct reference frames; in ACC choice variables are represented in invariant reference to foraging/searching for alternatives. While vmPFC encodes values of specific well-defined options, ACC encodes the average value of the foraging environment and cost of foraging.
We discuss a recent approach to investigating cognitive control, which has the potential to deal with some of the challenges inherent in this endeavour. In a model-based approach, the researcher defines a formal, computational model that performs the task at hand and whose performance matches that of a research participant. The internal variables in such a model might then be taken as proxies for latent variables computed in the brain. We discuss the potential advantages of such an approach for the study of the neural underpinnings of cognitive control and its pitfalls, and we make explicit the assumptions underlying the interpretation of data obtained using this approach.
Cognitive control; Model-based approach; Model; Reinforcement learning; Action regulation
The default mode network (DMN) of the brain consists of areas that are typically more active during rest than during active task performance. Recently however, this network has been shown to be activated by certain types of tasks. Social cognition, particularly higher-order tasks such as attributing mental states to others, has been suggested to activate a network of areas at least partly overlapping with the DMN. Here, we explore this claim, drawing on evidence from meta-analyses of functional MRI data and recent studies investigating the structural and functional connectivity of the social brain. In addition, we discuss recent evidence for the existence of a DMN in non-human primates. We conclude by discussing some of the implications of these observations.
default mode network; mentalizing; social cognition; fMRI; theory of mind; TPJ; posterior cingulate; medial frontal cortex
Despite the prominence of parietal activity in human neuromaging investigations of sensorimotor and cognitive processes there remains uncertainty about basic aspects of parietal cortical anatomical organization. Descriptions of human parietal cortex draw heavily on anatomical schemes developed in other primate species but the validity of such comparisons has been questioned by claims that there are fundamental differences between the parietal cortex in humans and other primates. A scheme is presented for parcellation of human lateral parietal cortex into component regions on the basis of anatomical connectivity and the functional interactions of the resulting clusters with other brain regions. Anatomical connectivity was estimated using diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance image (MRI) based tractography and functional interactions were assessed by correlations in activity measured with functional MRI (fMRI) at rest. Resting state functional connectivity was also assessed directly in the rhesus macaque lateral parietal cortex in an additional experiment and the patterns found reflected known neuroanatomical connections. Cross-correlation in the tractography-based connectivity patterns of parietal voxels reliably parcellated human lateral parietal cortex into ten component clusters. The resting state functional connectivity of human superior parietal and intraparietal clusters with frontal and extrastriate cortex suggested correspondences with areas in macaque superior and intraparietal sulcus. Functional connectivity patterns with parahippocampal cortex and premotor cortex again suggested fundamental correspondences between inferior parietal cortex in humans and macaques. In contrast, the human parietal cortex differs in the strength of its interactions between the central inferior parietal lobule region and the anterior prefrontal cortex.
AIP; MIP; LIP; VIP; IPL; SPL
The neural mechanisms underlying the selection and initiation of voluntary actions in the absence of external instructions are poorly understood. These mechanisms are usually investigated using a paradigm where different movement choices are self-generated by a participant on each trial. These “free choices” are compared with “instructed choices,” in which a stimulus informs subjects which action to make on each trial. Here, we introduce a novel paradigm to investigate these modes of action selection, by measuring brain processes evoked by an instruction to either reverse or maintain free and instructed choices in the period before a “go” signal. An unpredictable instruction to change a response plan had different effects on free and instructed choices. In instructed trials, change cues evoked a larger P300 than no-change cues, leading to a significant interaction of choice and change condition. Free-choice trials displayed a trend toward the opposite pattern. These results suggest a difference between updating of free and instructed action choices. We propose a theoretical framework for internally generated action in which representations of alternative actions remain available until a late stage in motor preparation. This framework emphasizes the high modifiability of voluntary action.
action selection; event-related potential; motor preparation; voluntary action
It is known that the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is crucially involved in emotion regulation. However, the specific role of the OFC in controlling the behavior evoked by these emotions, such as approach–avoidance (AA) responses, remains largely unexplored. We measured behavioral and neural responses (using fMRI) during the performance of a social task, a reaction time (RT) task where subjects approached or avoided visually presented emotional faces by pulling or pushing a joystick, respectively. RTs were longer for affect-incongruent responses (approach angry faces and avoid happy faces) as compared to affect-congruent responses (approach–happy; avoid–angry). Moreover, affect-incongruent responses recruited increased activity in the left lateral OFC. These behavioral and neural effects emerged only when the subjects responded explicitly to the emotional value of the faces (AA-task) and largely disappeared when subjects responded to an affectively irrelevant feature of the faces during a control (gender evaluation: GE) task. Most crucially, the size of the OFC-effect correlated positively with the size of the behavioral costs of approaching angry faces. These findings qualify the role of the lateral OFC in the voluntary control of social–motivational behavior, emphasizing the relevance of this region for selecting rule-driven stimulus–response associations, while overriding automatic (affect-congruent) stimulus–response mappings.
orbitofrontal cortex; approach–avoidance; motivational behavior; angry facial expression; social–emotional behavior
Actions are guided by prior sensory information [1–10], which is inherently uncertain. However, how the motor system is sculpted by trial-by-trial content of current sensory information remains largely unexplored. Previous work suggests that conditional probabilities, learned under a particular context, can be used preemptively to influence the output of the motor system [11–14]. To test this we used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to read out corticospinal excitability (CSE) during preparation for action in an instructed delay task [15, 16]. We systematically varied the uncertainty about an impending action by changing the validity of the instructive visual cue. We used two information-theoretic quantities to predict changes in CSE, prior to action, on a trial-by-trial basis: entropy (average uncertainty) and surprise (the stimulus-bound information conveyed by a visual cue) [17–19]. Our data show that during preparation for action, human CSE varies according to the entropy and surprise conveyed by visual events guiding action. CSE increases on trials with low entropy about the impending action and low surprise conveyed by an event. Commensurate effects were observed in reaction times. We suggest that motor output is biased according to contextual probabilities that are represented dynamically in the brain.