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Published January 2012 | Accepted Version + Published
Journal Article Open

Human Dorsal Striatum Encodes Prediction Errors during Observational Learning of Instrumental Actions


The dorsal striatum plays a key role in the learning and expression of instrumental reward associations that are acquired through direct experience. However, not all learning about instrumental actions require direct experience. Instead, humans and other animals are also capable of acquiring instrumental actions by observing the experiences of others. In this study, we investigated the extent to which human dorsal striatum is involved in observational as well as experiential instrumental reward learning. Human participants were scanned with fMRI while they observed a confederate over a live video performing an instrumental conditioning task to obtain liquid juice rewards. Participants also performed a similar instrumental task for their own rewards. Using a computational model-based analysis, we found reward prediction errors in the dorsal striatum not only during the experiential learning condition but also during observational learning. These results suggest a key role for the dorsal striatum in learning instrumental associations, even when those associations are acquired purely by observing others.

Additional Information

© 2011 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Posted Online November 21, 2011. The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Wellcome Trust (grant WT087388AIA to J. O. D.) and the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology (to J. C. C.). We thank Sojo Joseph for technical support and the members of the OʼDoherty laboratory for helpful comments.

Attached Files

Published - Cooper2012p16560J_Cognitive_Neurosci.pdf

Accepted Version - emss-51705.pdf


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