Value and prediction error in medial frontal cortex: integrating the single-unit and systems levels of analysis

Front Hum Neurosci. 2011 Aug 3;5:75. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2011.00075. eCollection 2011.


The role of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in cognition has been extensively investigated with several techniques, including single-unit recordings in rodents and monkeys and EEG and fMRI in humans. This has generated a rich set of data and points of view. Important theoretical functions proposed for ACC are value estimation, error detection, error-likelihood estimation, conflict monitoring, and estimation of reward volatility. A unified view is lacking at this time, however. Here we propose that online value estimation could be the key function underlying these diverse data. This is instantiated in the reward value and prediction model (RVPM). The model contains units coding for the value of cues (stimuli or actions) and units coding for the differences between such values and the actual reward (prediction errors). We exposed the model to typical experimental paradigms from single-unit, EEG, and fMRI research to compare its overall behavior with the data from these studies. The model reproduced the ACC behavior of previous single-unit, EEG, and fMRI studies on reward processing, error processing, conflict monitoring, error-likelihood estimation, and volatility estimation, unifying the interpretations of the role performed by the ACC in some aspects of cognition.

Keywords: ACC; conflict monitoring; dopamine; error likelihood; reinforcement learning; reward; volatility.