In a temporal difference (TD) learning approach to classical conditioning, a prediction error (PE) signal shifts from outcome deliverance to the onset of the conditioned stimulus. Omission of an expected outcome results in a negative PE signal, which is the initial step towards successful extinction. In order to visualize negative PE signaling during fear conditioning, we employed combined functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) and skin conductance response (SCR) measurements in a conditioning task with visual stimuli and mild electrical shocks. Positive PE signaling was associated with increased activation in the bilateral insula, supplementary motor area, brainstem, and visual cortices. Negative PE signaling was associated with increased activation in the ventromedial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices, the left lateral orbital gyrus, the middle temporal gyri, angular gyri, and visual cortices. The involvement of the ventromedial prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortex in extinction learning has been well documented, and this study provides evidence for the notion that these regions are already involved in negative PE signaling during fear conditioning.
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