The neural encoding of information prediction errors during non-instrumental information seeking

Sci Rep. 2018 Apr 17;8(1):6134. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-24566-x.


In a dynamic world, accurate beliefs about the environment are vital for survival, and individuals should therefore regularly seek out new information with which to update their beliefs. This aspect of behaviour is not well captured by standard theories of decision making, and the neural mechanisms of information seeking remain unclear. One recent theory posits that valuation of information results from representation of informative stimuli within canonical neural reward-processing circuits, even if that information lacks instrumental use. We investigated this question by recording EEG from twenty-three human participants performing a non-instrumental information-seeking task. In this task, participants could pay a monetary cost to receive advance information about the likelihood of receiving reward in a lottery at the end of each trial. Behavioural results showed that participants were willing to incur considerable monetary costs to acquire early but non-instrumental information. Analysis of the event-related potential elicited by informative cues revealed that the feedback-related negativity independently encoded both an information prediction error and a reward prediction error. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that information seeking results from processing of information within neural reward circuits, and suggests that information may represent a distinct dimension of valuation in decision making under uncertainty.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't