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  1. Abstract

    The real world is uncertain, and while ever changing, it constantly presents itself in terms of new sets of behavioral options. To attain the flexibility required to tackle these challenges successfully, most mammalian brains are equipped with certain computational abilities that rely on the prefrontal cortex (PFC). By examining learning in terms of internal models associating stimuli, actions, and outcomes, we argue here that adaptive behavior relies on specific interactions between multiple systems including: (1) selective models learning stimulus–action associations through rewards; (2) predictive models learning stimulus- and/or action–outcome associations through statistical inferences anticipating behavioral outcomes; and (3) contextual models learning external cues associated with latent states of the environment. Critically, the PFC combines these internal models by forming task sets to drive behavior and, moreover, constantly evaluates the reliability of actor task sets in predicting external contingencies to switch between task sets or create new ones. We review different models of adaptive behavior to demonstrate how their components map onto this unifying framework and specific PFC regions. Finally, we discuss how our framework may help to better understand the neural computations and the cognitive architecture of PFC regions guiding adaptive behavior.

  2. Abstract Learning appropriate representations of the reward environment is challenging in the real world where there are many options, each with multiple attributes or features. Despite existence of alternative solutions for this challenge, neural mechanisms underlying emergence and adoption of value representations and learning strategies remain unknown. To address this, we measure learning and choice during a multi-dimensional probabilistic learning task in humans and trained recurrent neural networks (RNNs) to capture our experimental observations. We find that human participants estimate stimulus-outcome associations by learning and combining estimates of reward probabilities associated with the informative feature followed by those of informative conjunctions. Through analyzing representations, connectivity, and lesioning of the RNNs, we demonstrate this mixed learning strategy relies on a distributed neural code and opponency between excitatory and inhibitory neurons through value-dependent disinhibition. Together, our results suggest computational and neural mechanisms underlying emergence of complex learning strategies in naturalistic settings.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2022