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Published February 16, 2011 | Published
Journal Article Open

Neural Correlates of Instrumental Contingency Learning: Differential Effects of Action–Reward Conjunction and Disjunction


Contingency theories of goal-directed action propose that experienced disjunctions between an action and its specific consequences, as well as conjunctions between these events, contribute to encoding the action–outcome association. Although considerable behavioral research in rats and humans has provided evidence for this proposal, relatively little is known about the neural processes that contribute to the two components of the contingency calculation. Specifically, while recent findings suggest that the influence of action–outcome conjunctions on goal-directed learning is mediated by a circuit involving ventromedial prefrontal, medial orbitofrontal cortex, and dorsomedial striatum, the neural processes that mediate the influence of experienced disjunctions between these events are unknown. Here we show differential responses to probabilities of conjunctive and disjunctive reward deliveries in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the dorsomedial striatum, and the inferior frontal gyrus. Importantly, activity in the inferior parietal lobule and the left middle frontal gyrus varied with a formal integration of the two reward probabilities, ΔP, as did response rates and explicit judgments of the causal efficacy of the action.

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© 2011 the authors. The authors grant the Society for Neuroscience an exclusive license to publish their work for the first 6 months. After 6 months the work becomes available to the public to copy, distribute, or display under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Received June 28, 2010; revised Dec. 7, 2010; accepted Dec. 17, 2010. This work was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (Grant 56446 to B.W.B, and Grant RO3MH075763 to J.O.D.). We thank S. B. Ostlund for valuable comments on the manuscript and K. Wunderlich for technical support.

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