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Published September 2011 | public
Journal Article

The human prefrontal cortex mediates integration of potential causes behind observed outcomes


Prefrontal cortex has long been implicated in tasks involving higher order inference in which decisions must be rendered, not only about which stimulus is currently rewarded, but also which stimulus dimensions are currently relevant. However, the precise computational mechanisms used to solve such tasks have remained unclear. We scanned human participants with functional MRI, while they performed a hierarchical intradimensional/extradimensional shift task to investigate what strategy subjects use while solving higher order decision problems. By using a computational model-based analysis, we found behavioral and neural evidence that humans solve such problems not by occasionally shifting focus from one to the other dimension, but by considering multiple explanations simultaneously. Activity in human prefrontal cortex was better accounted for by a model that integrates over all available evidences than by a model in which attention is selectively gated. Importantly, our model provides an explanation for how the brain determines integration weights, according to which it could distribute its attention. Our results demonstrate that, at the point of choice, the human brain and the prefrontal cortex in particular are capable of a weighted integration of information across multiple evidences.

Additional Information

© 2011 the American Physiological Society. Submitted 3 December 2010; accepted in final form 15 June 2011. Published online before print June 2011. This infomation is current as of September 23, 2011. We thank Peter Dayan for valuable comments. This research was supported by grants from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to J. P. O'Doherty, a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Scholarship to K. Wunderlich, a Marie Curie European reintegration grant to U. R. Beierholm, a Searle Scholarship to J. O'Doherty, and the Caltech Brain Imaging Center and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation.

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