Using computational modelling and neuroimaging, two distinct brain systems are shown to use distinct algorithms to make parallel predictions about the environment. The predictions are then optimally combined to control behavior.
A computational approach to functional specialization suggests that brain systems can be characterized in terms of the types of computations they perform, rather than their sensory or behavioral domains. We contrasted the neural systems associated with two computationally distinct forms of predictive model: a reinforcement-learning model of the environment obtained through experience with discrete events, and continuous dynamic forward modeling. By manipulating the precision with which each type of prediction could be used, we caused participants to shift computational strategies within a single spatial prediction task. Hence (using fMRI) we showed that activity in two brain systems (typically associated with reward learning and motor control) could be dissociated in terms of the forms of computations that were performed there, even when both systems were used to make parallel predictions of the same event. A region in parietal cortex, which was sensitive to the divergence between the predictions of the models and anatomically connected to both computational networks, is proposed to mediate integration of the two predictive modes to produce a single behavioral output.
To interact effectively with the environment, brains must predict future events based on past and current experience. Predictions associated with different behavioural domains of the brain are often associated with different algorithmic forms. For example, whereas the motor system makes dynamic moment-by-moment predictions based on physical world models, the reward system is more typically associated with statistical predictions learned over discrete events. However, in perceptually rich natural environments, behaviour is not neatly segmented into tasks like “reward learning” and “motor control.” Instead, many different types of information are available in parallel. The brain must both select behaviourally relevant information and arbitrate between conflicting predictions. To investigate how the brain balances and integrates different types of predictive information, we set up a task in which humans predicted an object's flight trajectory by using one of two strategies: either a statistical model (based on where objects had often landed in the past) or dynamic calculation of the current flight trajectory. Using fMRI, we show that brain activity switches between different regions of the brain, depending on which predictive strategy was used, even though behavioural output remained the same. Furthermore, we found that brain regions involved in selecting actions took into account the predictions from both competing algorithms, weighting each algorithm optimally in terms of the precision with which it could predict the event of interest. Thus, these distinct brain systems compete to control predictive behaviour.