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Published March 4, 2015 | Published
Journal Article Open

Characterizing the Associative Content of Brain Structures Involved in Habitual and Goal-Directed Actions in Humans: A Multivariate fMRI Study


While there is accumulating evidence for the existence of distinct neural systems supporting goal-directed and habitual action selection in the mammalian brain, much less is known about the nature of the information being processed in these different brain regions. Associative learning theory predicts that brain systems involved in habitual control, such as the dorsolateral striatum, should contain stimulus and response information only, but not outcome information, while regions involved in goal-directed action, such as ventromedial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and dorsomedial striatum, should be involved in processing information about outcomes as well as stimuli and responses. To test this prediction, human participants underwent fMRI while engaging in a binary choice task designed to enable the separate identification of these different representations with a multivariate classification analysis approach. Consistent with our predictions, the dorsolateral striatum contained information about responses but not outcomes at the time of an initial stimulus, while the regions implicated in goal-directed action selection contained information about both responses and outcomes. These findings suggest that differential contributions of these regions to habitual and goal-directed behavioral control may depend in part on basic differences in the type of information that these regions have access to at the time of decision making.

Additional Information

© 2015 the authors. Beginning six months after publication the Work will be made freely available to the public on SfN's website to copy, distribute, or display under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Received Nov. 12, 2014; revised Jan. 12, 2015; accepted Jan. 16, 2015. This work was funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH) Grant DA033077-01 (supported by OppNet, NIH's Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network) to J.P.O. Author contributions: D.M., M.L., and J.P.O. designed research; M.L. and O.Z. performed research; D.M., M.L., and O.Z. analyzed data; D.M., M.L., and J.P.O. wrote the paper. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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