Guo R, Böhmer W, Hebart M, Chien S, Sommer T, Obermayer K, Gläscher J.
J Neurosci. 2016 Dec 14;36(50):12650-12660.
Goal-directed and instrumental learning are both important controllers of human behavior. Learning about which stimulus event occurs in the environment and the reward associated with them allows humans to seek out the most valuable stimulus and move through the environment in a goal-directed manner. Stimulus-response associations are characteristic of instrumental learning, whereas response-outcome associations are the hallmark of goal-directed learning. Here we provide behavioral, computational, and neuroimaging results from a novel task in which stimulus-response and response-outcome associations are learned simultaneously but dominate behavior at different stages of the experiment. We found that prediction error representations in the ventral striatum depend on which type of learning dominates. Furthermore, the amygdala tracks the time-dependent weighting of stimulus-response versus response-outcome learning. Our findings suggest that the goal-directed and instrumental controllers dynamically engage the ventral striatum in representing prediction errors whenever one of them is dominating choice behavior.