Expectations and outcomes: decision-making in the primate brain
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- McCoy, A.N. & Platt, M.L. J Comp Physiol A (2005) 191: 201. doi:10.1007/s00359-004-0565-9
Success in a constantly changing environment requires that decision-making strategies be updated as reward contingencies change. How this is accomplished by the nervous system has, until recently, remained a profound mystery. New studies coupling economic theory with neurophysiological techniques have revealed the explicit representation of behavioral value. Specifically, when fluid reinforcement is paired with visually-guided eye movements, neurons in parietal cortex, prefrontal cortex, the basal ganglia, and superior colliculus—all nodes in a network linking visual stimulation with the generation of oculomotor behavior—encode the expected value of targets lying within their response fields. Other brain areas have been implicated in the processing of reward-related information in the abstract: midbrain dopaminergic neurons, for instance, signal an error in reward prediction. Still other brain areas link information about reward to the selection and performance of specific actions in order for behavior to adapt to changing environmental exigencies. Neurons in posterior cingulate cortex have been shown to carry signals related to both reward outcomes and oculomotor behavior, suggesting that they participate in updating estimates of orienting value.