A prefrontal network integrates preferences for advance information about uncertain rewards and punishments

Neuron. 2021 Jul 21;109(14):2339-2352.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2021.05.013. Epub 2021 Jun 11.


Humans and animals can be strongly motivated to seek information to resolve uncertainty about rewards and punishments. In particular, despite its clinical and societal relevance, very little is known about information seeking about punishments. We show that attitudes toward information about punishments and rewards are distinct and separable at both behavioral and neuronal levels. We demonstrate the existence of prefrontal neuronal populations that anticipate opportunities to gain information in a relatively valence-specific manner, separately anticipating information about either punishments or rewards. These neurons are located in anatomically interconnected subregions of anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC) in area 12o/47. Unlike ACC, vlPFC also contains a population of neurons that integrate attitudes toward both reward and punishment information, to encode the overall preference for information in a bivalent manner. This cortical network is well suited to mediate information seeking by integrating the desire to resolve uncertainty about multiple, distinct motivational outcomes.

Keywords: Anterior cingulate cortex; Aversive; Curiosity; Decision Making; Information seeking; Punishment; Reward; Uncertainty; Ventrolateral prefrontal cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Choice Behavior / physiology
  • Cues
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Punishment*
  • Reward*
  • Uncertainty