Choice modulates the neural dynamics of prediction error processing during rewarded learning

Neuroimage. 2011 Jan 15;54(2):1385-94. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.09.051. Epub 2010 Sep 25.


Our ability to selectively engage with our environment enables us to guide our learning and to take advantage of its benefits. When facing multiple possible actions, our choices are a critical aspect of learning. In the case of learning from rewarding feedback, there has been substantial theoretical and empirical progress in elucidating the associated behavioral and neural processes, predominantly in terms of a reward prediction error, a measure of the discrepancy between actual versus expected reward. Nevertheless, the distinct influence of choice on prediction error processing and its neural dynamics remains relatively unexplored. In this study we used a novel paradigm to determine how choice influences prediction error processing and to examine whether there are correspondingly distinct neural dynamics. We recorded scalp electroencephalogram while healthy adults were administered a rewarded learning task in which choice trials were intermingled with control trials involving the same stimuli, motor responses, and probabilistic rewards. We used a temporal difference learning model of subjects' trial-by-trial choices to infer subjects' image valuations and corresponding prediction errors. As expected, choices were associated with lower overall prediction error magnitudes, most notably over the course of learning the stimulus-reward contingencies. Choices also induced a higher-amplitude relative positivity in the frontocentral event-related potential about 200 ms after reward signal onset that was negatively correlated with the differential effect of choice on the prediction error. Thus choice influences the neural dynamics associated with how reward signals are processed during learning. Behavioral, computational, and neurobiological models of rewarded learning should therefore accommodate a distinct influence for choice during rewarded learning.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Reward*
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted