Assembling old tricks for new tasks: a neural model of instructional learning and control

J Cogn Neurosci. 2013 Jun;25(6):843-51. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00365. Epub 2013 Feb 5.


We can learn from the wisdom of others to maximize success. However, it is unclear how humans take advice to flexibly adapt behavior. On the basis of data from neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and neuroimaging, a biologically plausible model is developed to illustrate the neural mechanisms of learning from instructions. The model consists of two complementary learning pathways. The slow-learning parietal pathway carries out simple or habitual stimulus-response (S-R) mappings, whereas the fast-learning hippocampal pathway implements novel S-R rules. Specifically, the hippocampus can rapidly encode arbitrary S-R associations, and stimulus-cued responses are later recalled into the basal ganglia-gated pFC to bias response selection in the premotor and motor cortices. The interactions between the two model learning pathways explain how instructions can override habits and how automaticity can be achieved through motor consolidation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • 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

  • Animals
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Neural Networks, Computer*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology