Although we often encounter circumstances with which we have no prior experience, we rapidly learn how to behave in these novel situations. Such adaptive behavior relies on abstract behavioral rules that are generalizable, rather than concrete rules mapping specific cues to specific responses. Although the frontal cortex is known to support concrete rule learning, less well understood are the neural mechanisms supporting the acquisition of abstract rules. Here, we use a reinforcement learning paradigm to demonstrate that more anterior regions along the rostro-caudal axis of frontal cortex support rule learning at higher levels of abstraction. Moreover, these results indicate that when humans confront new rule learning problems, this rostro-caudal division of labor supports the search for relationships between context and action at multiple levels of abstraction simultaneously.
Copyright 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.