Daniel McNamee, Mimi Liljeholm, Ondrej Zika, and John P. O'Doherty
The Journal of Neuroscience, 4 March 2015, 35(9):3764-3771;
While there is accumulating evidence for the existence of distinct neural systems supporting goal-directed and habitual action selection in the mammalian brain, much less is known about the nature of the information being processed in these different brain regions. Associative learning theory predicts that brain systems involved in habitual control, such as the dorsolateral striatum, should contain stimulus and response information only, but not outcome information, while regions involved in goal-directed action, such as ventromedial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and dorsomedial striatum, should be involved in processing information about outcomes as well as stimuli and responses. To test this prediction, human participants underwent fMRI while engaging in a binary choice task designed to enable the separate identification of these different representations with a multivariate classification analysis approach. Consistent with our predictions, the dorsolateral striatum contained information about responses but not outcomes at the time of an initial stimulus, while the regions implicated in goal-directed action selection contained information about both responses and outcomes. These findings suggest that differential contributions of these regions to habitual and goal-directed behavioral control may depend in part on basic differences in the type of information that these regions have access to at the time of decision making.