Goal-oriented and habitual decisions: Neural signatures of model-based and model-free learning

Neuroimage. 2020 Jul 15;215:116834. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.116834. Epub 2020 Apr 10.


Human decision-making is mainly driven by two fundamental learning processes: a slow, deliberative, goal-directed model-based process that maps out the potential outcomes of all options and a rapid habitual model-free process that enables reflexive repetition of previously successful choices. Although many model-informed neuroimaging studies have examined the neural correlates of model-based and model-free learning, the concordant activity among these two processes remains unclear. We used quantitative meta-analyses of functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments to identify the concordant activity pertaining to model-based and model-free learning over a range of reward-related paradigms. We found that: 1) both processes yielded concordant ventral striatum activity, 2) model-based learning activated the medial prefrontal cortex and orbital frontal cortex, and 3) model-free learning specifically activated the left globus pallidus and right caudate head. Our findings suggest that model-free and model-based decision making engage overlapping yet distinct neural regions. These stereotaxic maps improve our understanding of how deliberative goal-directed and reflexive habitual learning are implemented in the brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Habits*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Young Adult