Human midbrain sensitivity to cognitive feedback and uncertainty during classification learning

J Neurophysiol. 2004 Aug;92(2):1144-52. doi: 10.1152/jn.01209.2003. Epub 2004 Mar 10.


Mesencephalic dopaminergic system (MDS) neurons may participate in learning by providing a prediction error signal to their targets, which include ventral striatal, orbital, and medial frontal regions, as well as by showing sensitivity to the degree of uncertainty associated with individual stimuli. We investigated the mechanisms of probabilistic classification learning in humans using functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the effects of feedback and uncertainty. The design was optimized for separating neural responses to stimulus, delay, and negative and positive feedback components. Compared with fixation, stimulus and feedback activated brain regions consistent with the MDS, whereas the delay period did not. Midbrain activity was significantly different for negative versus positive feedback (consistent with coding of the "prediction error") and was reliably correlated with the degree of uncertainty as well as with activity in MDS target regions. Purely cognitive feedback apparently engages the same regions as rewarding stimuli, consistent with a broader characterization of this network.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Entropy
  • Feedback
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / blood supply
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Probability Learning*
  • Uncertainty*


  • Oxygen