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Partial adaptation of obtained and observed value signals preserves information about gains and losses


Burke, Christopher J; Tobler, Philippe N; Schultz, Wolfram (2016). Partial adaptation of obtained and observed value signals preserves information about gains and losses. Journal of Neuroscience, 36(39):10016-10025.

Abstract

Given that the range of rewarding and punishing outcomes of actions is large but neural coding capacity is limited, efficient processing of outcomes by the brain is necessary. One mechanism to increase efficiency is to rescale neural output to the range of outcomes expected in the current context, and process only experienced deviations from this expectation. However, this mechanism comes at the cost of not being able to discriminate between unexpectedly low losses when times are bad versus unexpectedly high gains when times are good. Thus, too much adaptation would result in disregarding information about the nature and absolute magnitude of outcomes, preventing learning about the longer-term value structure of the environment. Here we investigate the degree of adaptation in outcome coding brain regions in humans, for directly experienced outcomes and observed outcomes. We scanned participants while they performed a social learning task in gain and loss blocks. Multivariate pattern analysis showed two distinct networks of brain regions adapt to the most likely outcomes within a block. Frontostriatal areas adapted to directly experienced outcomes, whereas lateral frontal and temporoparietal regions adapted to observed social outcomes. Critically, in both cases, adaptation was incomplete and information about whether the outcomes arose in a gain block or a loss block was retained. Univariate analysis confirmed incomplete adaptive coding in these regions but also detected nonadapting outcome signals. Thus, although neural areas rescale their responses to outcomes for efficient coding, they adapt incompletely and keep track of the longer-term incentives available in the environment.

Abstract

Given that the range of rewarding and punishing outcomes of actions is large but neural coding capacity is limited, efficient processing of outcomes by the brain is necessary. One mechanism to increase efficiency is to rescale neural output to the range of outcomes expected in the current context, and process only experienced deviations from this expectation. However, this mechanism comes at the cost of not being able to discriminate between unexpectedly low losses when times are bad versus unexpectedly high gains when times are good. Thus, too much adaptation would result in disregarding information about the nature and absolute magnitude of outcomes, preventing learning about the longer-term value structure of the environment. Here we investigate the degree of adaptation in outcome coding brain regions in humans, for directly experienced outcomes and observed outcomes. We scanned participants while they performed a social learning task in gain and loss blocks. Multivariate pattern analysis showed two distinct networks of brain regions adapt to the most likely outcomes within a block. Frontostriatal areas adapted to directly experienced outcomes, whereas lateral frontal and temporoparietal regions adapted to observed social outcomes. Critically, in both cases, adaptation was incomplete and information about whether the outcomes arose in a gain block or a loss block was retained. Univariate analysis confirmed incomplete adaptive coding in these regions but also detected nonadapting outcome signals. Thus, although neural areas rescale their responses to outcomes for efficient coding, they adapt incompletely and keep track of the longer-term incentives available in the environment.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
Language:English
Date:28 September 2016
Deposited On:09 Jan 2017 14:06
Last Modified:28 Mar 2017 00:00
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.0487-16.2016
Related URLs:http://www.jneurosci.org/content/36/39/10016.short (Publisher)

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