How green is the grass on the other side? Frontopolar cortex and the evidence in favor of alternative courses of action

Neuron. 2009 Jun 11;62(5):733-43. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.05.014.


Behavioral flexibility is the hallmark of goal-directed behavior. Whereas a great deal is known about the neural substrates of behavioral adjustment when it is explicitly cued by features of the external environment, little is known about how we adapt our behavior when such changes are made on the basis of uncertain evidence. Using a Bayesian reinforcement-learning model and fMRI, we show that frontopolar cortex (FPC) tracks the relative advantage in favor of switching to a foregone alternative when choices are made voluntarily. Changes in FPC functional connectivity occur when subjects finally decide to switch to the alternative behavior. Moreover, interindividual variation in the FPC signal predicts interindividual differences in effectively adapting behavior. By contrast, ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) encodes the relative value of the current decision. Collectively, these findings reveal complementary prefrontal computations essential for promoting short- and long-term behavioral flexibility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Brain Mapping
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / blood supply
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Regression Analysis
  • Reward*
  • Signal Detection, Psychological / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen