Goal-direction and top-down control

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2014 Nov 5;369(1655):20130471. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0471.


We review the neural mechanisms that support top-down control of behaviour and suggest that goal-directed behaviour uses two systems that work in concert. A basal ganglia-centred system quickly learns simple, fixed goal-directed behaviours while a prefrontal cortex-centred system gradually learns more complex (abstract or long-term) goal-directed behaviours. Interactions between these two systems allow top-down control mechanisms to learn how to direct behaviour towards a goal but also how to guide behaviour when faced with a novel situation.

Keywords: basal ganglia; cognition; frontal lobe; goal direction; learning.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Basal Ganglia / physiology*
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*