Prediction error as a linear function of reward probability is coded in human nucleus accumbens

Neuroimage. 2006 Jun;31(2):790-5. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.01.001. Epub 2006 Feb 17.


Reward probability has been shown to be coded by dopamine neurons in monkeys. Phasic neuronal activation not only increased linearly with reward probability upon expectation of reward, but also varied monotonically across the range of probabilities upon omission or receipt of rewards, therefore modeling discrepancies between expected and received rewards. Such a discrete coding of prediction error has been suggested to be one of the basic principles of learning. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show that the human dopamine system codes reward probability and prediction error in a similar way. We used a simple delayed incentive task with a discrete range of reward probabilities from 0%-100%. Activity in the nucleus accumbens of human subjects strongly resembled the phasic responses found in monkey neurons. First, during the expectation period of the task, the fMRI signal in the human nucleus accumbens (NAc) increased linearly with the probability of the reward. Second, during the outcome phase, activity in the NAc coded the prediction error as a linear function of reward probabilities. Third, we found that the Nac signal was correlated with individual differences in sensation seeking and novelty seeking, indicating a link between individual fMRI activation of the dopamine system in a probabilistic paradigm and personality traits previously suggested to be linked with reward processing. We therefore identify two different covariates that model activity in the Nac: specific properties of a psychological task and individual character traits.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Cues*
  • Emotions
  • Exploratory Behavior
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology*
  • Probability
  • Reaction Time
  • Reference Values
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Reward*