A key role for stimulus-specific updating of the sensory cortices in the learning of stimulus-reward associations

Berry van den Berg, Benjamin R. Geib, Rene San Martin, Marty G. Woldorff

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Abstract

Successful adaptive behavior requires the learning of associations between stimulus-specific choices and rewarding outcomes. Most research on the mechanisms underlying such processes has focused on subcortical reward-processing regions, in conjunction with frontal circuits. Given the extensive stimulus-specific coding in the sensory cortices, we hypothesized they would play a key role in the learning of stimulus-specific reward associations. We recorded electrical brain activity (EEG) during a learning-based, decision-making, gambling task where, on each trial, participants chose between a face and a house and then received feedback (gain or loss). Within each 20-trial set, either faces or houses were more likely to predict a gain. Results showed that early feedback processing (~200-1200ms) was independent of the choice made. In contrast, later feedback processing (~1400-1800ms) was stimulus-specific, reflected by decreased alpha power (reflecting increased cortical activity) over face-selective regions. For winning-versus-losing after a face choice, but not after a house choice. Finally, as the reward association was learned in a set, there was increasingly stronger attentional bias towards the more likely winning stimulus, reflected by increasing attentional-orienting-related brain activity and increasing likelihood of choosing that stimulus. These results delineate the processes underlying the updating of stimulus-reward associations during feedback-guided learning, which then guides future attentional allocation and decision making.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173–187
Number of pages15
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Volume14
Issue number2
Early online date20-Dec-2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb-2019

Keywords

  • ANTERIOR CINGULATE CORTEX
  • BASAL GANGLIA CIRCUITS
  • DECISION-MAKING
  • ATTENTION
  • REPRESENTATION
  • PERCEPTION
  • OBJECT
  • FMRI
  • PREDICTION
  • SIGNATURES

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