Event Abstract

The anterior prefrontal cortex and the representation of counterfactual choices

  • 1 University of Oxford, Department of Experimental Psychology, United Kingdom

Behavioural flexibility is the hallmark of goal-directed behavior. Whereas a great deal is known about the neural substrates of behavioral adjustment when it is explicitly cued by features of the external environment, little is known about how alternative or counterfactual choices are represented when changes to behaviour are made on the basis of uncertain evidence. Recent evidence, however, suggests that the representation of counterfactual choices may depend crucially on the circuit linking a lateral part of the anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC), near the frontal polar cortex, and a central region of the inferior parietal lobule (IPL). Comparisons of the structure and function of human and other primate brains suggest that this circuit may be particularly well developed in humans. With the use of a Bayesian reinforcement-learning model and fMRI it is possible to show that the aPFC tracks the relative advantage in favour of switching to a foregone alternative when choices are made voluntarily. Changes in functional connectivity between aPFC and the central IPL region occur when subjects finally decide to switch to the alternative behaviour. Moreover, inter-individual variation in the aPFC signal predicts inter-individual differences in effectively adapting behaviour. By contrast, ventromedial prefrontal cortex encodes the relative value of the current decision. The aPFC also exhibits a signal that could guide learning about counterfactual options even in the absence of direct experience of those options; the aPFC exhibits a counterfactual choice prediction error signal.

Keywords: goal-directed behavior, Prefrontal Cortex, reinforcement learning

Conference: XI International Conference on Cognitive Neuroscience (ICON XI), Palma, Mallorca, Spain, 25 Sep - 29 Sep, 2011.

Presentation Type: Keynote Lecture

Topic: Keynote Lectures

Citation: Rushworth M (2011). The anterior prefrontal cortex and the representation of counterfactual choices. Conference Abstract: XI International Conference on Cognitive Neuroscience (ICON XI). doi: 10.3389/conf.fnhum.2011.207.00006

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Received: 02 Nov 2011; Published Online: 08 Nov 2011.

* Correspondence: Dr. Matthew Rushworth, University of Oxford, Department of Experimental Psychology, Oxford, United Kingdom, matthew.rushworth@psy.ox.ac.uk

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