Functionally dissociable influences on learning rate in a dynamic environment

Neuron. 2014 Nov 19;84(4):870-81. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.10.013. Epub 2014 Nov 19.


Maintaining accurate beliefs in a changing environment requires dynamically adapting the rate at which one learns from new experiences. Beliefs should be stable in the face of noisy data but malleable in periods of change or uncertainty. Here we used computational modeling, psychophysics, and fMRI to show that adaptive learning is not a unitary phenomenon in the brain. Rather, it can be decomposed into three computationally and neuroanatomically distinct factors that were evident in human subjects performing a spatial-prediction task: (1) surprise-driven belief updating, related to BOLD activity in visual cortex; (2) uncertainty-driven belief updating, related to anterior prefrontal and parietal activity; and (3) reward-driven belief updating, a context-inappropriate behavioral tendency related to activity in ventral striatum. These distinct factors converged in a core system governing adaptive learning. This system, which included dorsomedial frontal cortex, responded to all three factors and predicted belief updating both across trials and across individuals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Reward*
  • Uncertainty*
  • Young Adult