Confidence Is the Bridge between Multi-stage Decisions

van den Berg R, Zylberberg A, Kiani R, Shadlen MN, Wolpert DM
Curr Biol. 2016 Dec 5;26(23):3157-3168. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.10.021.

Demanding tasks often require a series of decisions to reach a goal. Recent progress in perceptual decision-making has served to unite decision accuracy, speed, and confidence in a common framework of bounded evidence accumulation, furnishing a platform for the study of such multi-stage decisions. In many instances, the strategy applied to each decision, such as the speed-accuracy trade-off, ought to depend on the accuracy of the previous decisions. However, as the accuracy of each decision is often unknown to the decision maker, we hypothesized that subjects may carry forward a level of confidence in previous decisions to affect subsequent decisions. Subjects made two perceptual decisions sequentially and were rewarded only if they made both correctly. The speed and accuracy of individual decisions were explained by noisy evidence accumulation to a terminating bound. We found that subjects adjusted their speed-accuracy setting by elevating the termination bound on the second decision in proportion to their confidence in the first. The findings reveal a novel role for confidence and a degree of flexibility, hitherto unknown, in the brain's ability to rapidly and precisely modify the mechanisms that control the termination of a decision.


Dynamic neural architecture for social knowledge retrieval

Y Wang et al.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 114 (16), E3305-E3314. 2017 Mar 13.

Social behavior is often shaped by the rich storehouse of biographical information that we hold for other people. In our daily life, we rapidly and flexibly retrieve a host of biographical details about individuals in our social network, which often guide our decisions as we navigate complex social interactions. Even abstract traits associated with an individual, such as their political affiliation, can cue a rich cascade of person-specific knowledge. Here, we asked whether the anterior temporal lobe (ATL) serves as a hub for a distributed neural circuit that represents person knowledge. Fifty participants across two studies learned biographical information about fictitious people in a 2-d training paradigm. On day 3, they retrieved this biographical information while undergoing an fMRI scan. A series of multivariate and connectivity analyses suggest that the ATL stores abstract person identity representations. Moreover, this region coordinates interactions with a distributed network to support the flexible retrieval of person attributes. Together, our results suggest that the ATL is a central hub for representing and retrieving person knowledge.


Observational learning computations in neurons of the human anterior cingulate cortex

Michael R. Hill, Erie D. Boorman & Itzhak Fried
Nature Communications 7, Article number: 12722 (2016) doi:10.1038/ncomms12722

When learning from direct experience, neurons in the primate brain have been shown to encode a teaching signal used by algorithms in artificial intelligence: the reward prediction error (PE)—the difference between how rewarding an event is, and how rewarding it was expected to be. However, in humans and other species learning often takes place by observing other individuals. Here, we show that, when humans observe other players in a card game, neurons in their rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) encode both the expected value of an observed choice, and the PE after the outcome was revealed. Notably, during the same task neurons recorded in the amygdala (AMY) and the rostromedial prefrontal cortex (rmPFC) do not exhibit this type of encoding. Our results suggest that humans learn by observing others, at least in part through the encoding of observational PEs in single neurons in the rACC.


Neurons in the primate dorsal striatum signal the uncertainty of object–reward associations

J. Kael White & Ilya E. Monosov
Nature Communications 7, Article number: 12735 (2016) doi:10.1038/ncomms12735

To learn, obtain reward and survive, humans and other animals must monitor, approach and act on objects that are associated with variable or unknown rewards. However, the neuronal mechanisms that mediate behaviours aimed at uncertain objects are poorly understood. Here we demonstrate that a set of neurons in an internal-capsule bordering regions of the primate dorsal striatum, within the putamen and caudate nucleus, signal the uncertainty of object–reward associations. Their uncertainty responses depend on the presence of objects associated with reward uncertainty and evolve rapidly as monkeys learn novel object–reward associations. Therefore, beyond its established role in mediating actions aimed at known or certain rewards, the dorsal striatum also participates in behaviours aimed at reward-uncertain objects.


Blunted ventral striatal responses to anticipated rewards foreshadow problematic drug use in novelty-seeking adolescents

Christian Büchel, Jan Peters[…]the IMAGEN consortium
Nature Communications 8, Article number: 14140 (2017) doi:10.1038/ncomms14140

Novelty-seeking tendencies in adolescents may promote innovation as well as problematic impulsive behaviour, including drug abuse. Previous research has not clarified whether neural hyper- or hypo-responsiveness to anticipated rewards promotes vulnerability in these individuals. Here we use a longitudinal design to track 144 novelty-seeking adolescents at age 14 and 16 to determine whether neural activity in response to anticipated rewards predicts problematic drug use. We find that diminished BOLD activity in mesolimbic (ventral striatal and midbrain) and prefrontal cortical (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) regions during reward anticipation at age 14 predicts problematic drug use at age 16. Lower psychometric conscientiousness and steeper discounting of future rewards at age 14 also predicts problematic drug use at age 16, but the neural responses independently predict more variance than psychometric measures. Together, these findings suggest that diminished neural responses to anticipated rewards in novelty-seeking adolescents may increase vulnerability to future problematic drug use.


Striatal prediction errors support dynamic control of declarative memory decisions

Jason M. Scimeca, Perri L. Katzman & David Badre
Nature Communications 7, Article number: 13061 (2016) doi:10.1038/ncomms13061

Adaptive memory requires context-dependent control over how information is retrieved, evaluated and used to guide action, yet the signals that drive adjustments to memory decisions remain unknown. Here we show that prediction errors (PEs) coded by the striatum support control over memory decisions. Human participants completed a recognition memory test that incorporated biased feedback to influence participants’ recognition criterion. Using model-based fMRI, we find that PEs—the deviation between the outcome and expected value of a memory decision—correlate with striatal activity and predict individuals’ final criterion. Importantly, the striatal PEs are scaled relative to memory strength rather than the expected trial outcome. Follow-up experiments show that the learned recognition criterion transfers to free recall, and targeting biased feedback to experimentally manipulate the magnitude of PEs influences criterion consistent with PEs scaled relative to memory strength. This provides convergent evidence that declarative memory decisions can be regulated via striatally mediated reinforcement learning signals.


Computations Underlying Social Hierarchy Learning: Distinct Neural Mechanisms for Updating and Representing Self-Relevant Information

Kumaran D, Banino A, Blundell C, Hassabis D, Dayan P.
Neuron. 2016 Dec 7;92(5):1135-1147. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2016.10.052.

Knowledge about social hierarchies organizes human behavior, yet we understand little about the underlying computations. Here we show that a Bayesian inference scheme, which tracks the power of individuals, better captures behavioral and neural data compared with a reinforcement learning model inspired by rating systems used in games such as chess. We provide evidence that the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) selectively mediates the updating of knowledge about one's own hierarchy, as opposed to that of another individual, a process that underpinned successful performance and involved functional interactions with the amygdala and hippocampus. In contrast, we observed domain-general coding of rank in the amygdala and hippocampus, even when the task did not require it. Our findings reveal the computations underlying a core aspect of social cognition and provide new evidence that self-relevant information may indeed be afforded a unique representational status in the brain.