Optimal decision making and the anterior cingulate cortex


Learning the value of options in an uncertain environment is central to optimal decision making. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) has been implicated in using reinforcement information to control behavior. Here we demonstrate that the ACC's critical role in reinforcement-guided behavior is neither in detecting nor in correcting errors, but in guiding voluntary choices based on the history of actions and outcomes. ACC lesions did not impair the performance of monkeys (Macaca mulatta) immediately after errors, but made them unable to sustain rewarded responses in a reinforcement-guided choice task and to integrate risk and payoff in a dynamic foraging task. These data suggest that the ACC is essential for learning the value of actions.

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Figure 1: Diagram of the macaque brain and overview of experiments 1 and 2.
Figure 2: Performance in experiment 1A.
Figure 3: Performance for sustaining rewarded behavior following an error in experiment 1.
Figure 4: Estimates of the influence of previous reward history on current choice, in experiment 1.
Figure 5: Postoperative performance in the matching task in experiment 2.
Figure 6: Schematic of a sample choice trial in experiment 3.
Figure 7: Percentage of high reward options selected for each of the three choice pairs across three preoperative (unfilled bars) and one postoperative (hatched bars) sessions.
Figure 8: Coronal sections showing the cingulate lesion in all three monkeys that received surgery in experiments 1–3.


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We are grateful to D. Gaffan for advice and encouragement. Supported by the Medical Research Council. Additional support from the Clarendon Foundation (S.W.K.), the Wellcome Trust (M.E.W.) and the Royal Society (M.J.B and M.F.S.R.).

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Correspondence to Steven W Kennerley.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Fig. 1

Number of trials to update to the other response after a task-imposed response switch in Experiment 1. (PDF 57 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 2

Inter-response time performance in Experiment 1A. (PDF 54 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 3

Performance for sustaining rewarded behavior following errors that occurred at a task-imposed switch trial or all other errors. (PDF 59 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 4

Relative contributions of the high and low reward-probability responses in determining ropt for the 0.4:0.1 action-reward ratio pairing in Experiment 2. (PDF 84 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 5

The average expected reward per response for each action-reward ratio pair in Experiment 2. (PDF 64 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 6

Group response ratio plot for the action-reward ratio 0.4:0.1. (PDF 79 kb)

Supplementary Methods (PDF 189 kb)

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Kennerley, S., Walton, M., Behrens, T. et al. Optimal decision making and the anterior cingulate cortex. Nat Neurosci 9, 940–947 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn1724

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