Neural signatures of arbitration between Pavlovian and instrumental action selection

Published Date: 
February 10, 2021

Pavlovian associations drive approach towards reward-predictive cues, and avoidance of punishment-predictive cues. These associations "misbehave" when they conflict with correct instrumental behavior. This raises the question of how Pavlovian and instrumental influences on behavior are arbitrated. We test a computational theory according to which Pavlovian influence will be stronger when inferred controllability of outcomes is low. Using a model-based analysis of a Go/NoGo task with human subjects, we show that theta-band oscillatory power in frontal cortex tracks inferred controllability, and that these inferences predict Pavlovian action biases. Functional MRI data revealed an inferior frontal gyrus correlate of action probability and a ventromedial prefrontal correlate of outcome valence, both of which were modulated by inferred controllability.

Samuel J Gershman, Marc Guitart-Masip, James F Cavanagh