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Frontal theta overrides pavlovian learning biases


Cavanagh, J F; Eisenberg, I; Guitart-Masip, M; Huys, Q; Frank, M J (2013). Frontal theta overrides pavlovian learning biases. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(19):8541-8548.

Abstract

Pavlovian biases influence learning and decision making by intricately coupling reward seeking with action invigoration and punishment avoidance with action suppression. This bias is not always adaptive-it can often interfere with instrumental requirements. The prefrontal cortex is thought to help resolve such conflict between motivational systems, but the nature of this control process remains unknown. EEG recordings of midfrontal theta band power are sensitive to conflict and predictive of adaptive control over behavior, but it is not clear whether this signal reflects control over conflict between motivational systems. Here we used a task that orthogonalized action requirements and outcome valence while recording concurrent EEG in human participants. By applying a computational model of task performance, we derived parameters reflective of the latent influence of Pavlovian bias and how it was modulated by midfrontal theta power during motivational conflict. Between subjects, those who performed better under Pavlovian conflict exhibited higher midfrontal theta power. Within subjects, trial-to-trial variance in theta power was predictive of ability to overcome the influence of the Pavlovian bias, and this effect was most pronounced in subjects with higher midfrontal theta to conflict. These findings demonstrate that midfrontal theta is not only a sensitive index of prefrontal control, but it can also reflect the application of top-down control over instrumental processes.

Pavlovian biases influence learning and decision making by intricately coupling reward seeking with action invigoration and punishment avoidance with action suppression. This bias is not always adaptive-it can often interfere with instrumental requirements. The prefrontal cortex is thought to help resolve such conflict between motivational systems, but the nature of this control process remains unknown. EEG recordings of midfrontal theta band power are sensitive to conflict and predictive of adaptive control over behavior, but it is not clear whether this signal reflects control over conflict between motivational systems. Here we used a task that orthogonalized action requirements and outcome valence while recording concurrent EEG in human participants. By applying a computational model of task performance, we derived parameters reflective of the latent influence of Pavlovian bias and how it was modulated by midfrontal theta power during motivational conflict. Between subjects, those who performed better under Pavlovian conflict exhibited higher midfrontal theta power. Within subjects, trial-to-trial variance in theta power was predictive of ability to overcome the influence of the Pavlovian bias, and this effect was most pronounced in subjects with higher midfrontal theta to conflict. These findings demonstrate that midfrontal theta is not only a sensitive index of prefrontal control, but it can also reflect the application of top-down control over instrumental processes.

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34 citations in Web of Science®
36 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Biomedical Engineering
Dewey Decimal Classification:170 Ethics
610 Medicine & health
Language:English
Date:2013
Deposited On:28 Aug 2013 16:00
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 16:56
Publisher:Society for Neuroscience
ISSN:0270-6474
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5754-12.2013
PubMed ID:23658191
Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-80416

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