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Dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the value of control


Debates over the function(s) of dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) have persisted for decades. So too have demonstrations of the region's association with cognitive control. Researchers have struggled to account for this association and, simultaneously, dACC's involvement in phenomena related to evaluation and motivation. We describe a recent integrative theory that achieves this goal. It proposes that dACC serves to specify the currently optimal allocation of control by determining the overall expected value of control (EVC), thereby licensing the associated cognitive effort. The EVC theory accounts for dACC's sensitivity to a wide array of experimental variables, and their relationship to subsequent control adjustments. Finally, we contrast our theory with a recent theory proposing a primary role for dACC in foraging-like decisions. We describe why the EVC theory offers a more comprehensive and coherent account of dACC function, including dACC's particular involvement in decisions regarding foraging or otherwise altering one's behavior.

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Figure 1: dACC's proposed role in control allocation based on EVC.
Figure 2: Decisions about engaging in a current task versus an alternate task from the perspective of FVT and EVC.
Figure 3: Disentangling potential explanations for dACC involvement in foraging settings.


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The authors would like to thank J. Cavanagh for his feedback on an earlier draft of the manuscript. This work was supported by the C.V. Starr Foundation (A.S.) and the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.

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Correspondence to Amitai Shenhav.

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Shenhav, A., Cohen, J. & Botvinick, M. Dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the value of control. Nat Neurosci 19, 1286–1291 (2016).

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