István Hernádi, Fabian Grabenhorst & Wolfram Schultz
Nature Neuroscience 18, 461–469 (2015)
The best rewards are often distant and can only be achieved by planning and decision-making over several steps. We designed a multi-step choice task in which monkeys followed internal plans to save rewards toward self-defined goals. During this self-controlled behavior, amygdala neurons showed future-oriented activity that reflected the animal's plan to obtain specific rewards several trials ahead. This prospective activity encoded crucial components of the animal's plan, including value and length of the planned choice sequence. It began on initial trials when a plan would be formed, reappeared step by step until reward receipt, and readily updated with a new sequence. It predicted performance, including errors, and typically disappeared during instructed behavior. Such prospective activity could underlie the formation and pursuit of internal plans characteristic of goal-directed behavior. The existence of neuronal planning activity in the amygdala suggests that this structure is important in guiding behavior toward internally generated, distant goals.