A fundamental challenge in social cognition is how humans learn another person's values to predict their decision-making behavior. This form of learning is often assumed to require simulation of the other by direct recruitment of one's own valuation process to model the other's process. However, the cognitive and neural mechanism of simulation learning is not known. Using behavior, modeling, and fMRI, we show that simulation involves two learning signals in a hierarchical arrangement. A simulated-other's reward prediction error processed in ventromedial prefrontal cortex mediated simulation by direct recruitment, being identical for valuation of the self and simulated-other. However, direct recruitment was insufficient for learning, and also required observation of the other's choices to generate a simulated-other's action prediction error encoded in dorsomedial/dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These findings show that simulation uses a core prefrontal circuit for modeling the other's valuation to generate prediction and an adjunct circuit for tracking behavioral variation to refine prediction.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.