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Neuroimage. 2012 Feb 15;59(4):3457-67. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.11.058. Epub 2011 Nov 30.

Striatal activations signal prediction errors on confidence in the absence of external feedback.

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Department of Experimental Psychology, Otto-von-Guericke-Universität Magdeburg, Postfach 4120, D-39016 Magdeburg, Germany.


Research on the neural bases of learning has mainly focused on reinforcement learning where the central role of the dopaminergic system is well established. However, in everyday life many decisions are not followed by feedback, in which case humans have been shown to code the most probable outcome into memory. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the neural basis of internally generated signals on correctness and decision confidence in the complete absence of feedback in a categorization task. During test trials after observational training activation in dopaminergic target regions was modulated by the correctness of the answer similarly as during feedback-based training. Moreover, activation in the nucleus accumbens and putamen was correlated with the prediction error on confidence as estimated by a reinforcement learning model. In this model subjective confidence ratings acquired after each trial served as outcome measure. Activation in the striatum therefore follows a similar pattern in response to prediction errors on confidence as it does during reinforcement learning in response to reward prediction errors, but with respect to internally generated signals based on knowledge of the structure of the environment. Furthermore, ventral striatal activation decreased with stimulus novelty, which might support the allocation of attention to unfamiliar stimuli. These results provide a parsimonious account for the neural bases of learning, indicating overlapping neural substrates of reinforcement learning and learning when outcome information has to be internally constructed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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