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Published June 10, 2020 | Submitted + Published
Journal Article Open

Value-related neuronal responses in the human amygdala during observational learning


The amygdala plays an important role in many aspects of social cognition and reward learning. Here, we aimed to determine whether human amygdala neurons are involved in the computations necessary to implement learning through observation. We performed single-neuron recordings from the amygdalae of human neurosurgical patients (male and female) while they learned about the value of stimuli through observing the outcomes experienced by another agent interacting with those stimuli. We used a detailed computational modeling approach to describe patients' behavior in the task. We found a significant proportion of amygdala neurons whose activity correlated with both expected rewards for oneself and others, and in tracking outcome values received by oneself or other agents. Additionally, a population decoding analysis suggests the presence of information for both observed and experiential outcomes in the amygdala. Encoding and decoding analyses suggested observational value coding in amygdala neurons occurred in a different subset of neurons than experiential value coding. Collectively, these findings support a key role for the human amygdala in the computations underlying the capacity for learning through observation.

Additional Information

© 2020 the authors. Received Dec. 5, 2019; revised Mar. 25, 2020; accepted Apr. 25, 2020. This work was supported by National Institutes of Health Grants R01DA040011 and R01MH111425 (to J.P.O.), R01MH110831 (to U.R.), and P50MH094258 (to J.P.O. and U.R.). Author contributions: J.M., S.D., U.R., and J.P.O. designed research; J.M., I.B.R., A.N.M., U.R., and J.P.O. performed research; T.G.A. contributed unpublished reagents/analytic tools; T.G.A. and J.M. analyzed data; T.G.A., U.R., J.M., U.R., and J.P.O. wrote the first draft of the paper; T.G.A., J.M., U.R., and J.P.O. wrote the paper. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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August 22, 2023
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