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Integration of beliefs and affective values in human decision-making

Abstract : Executive control relates to the human ability to monitor and flexibly adapt behavior in relation to internal mental states. Specifically, executive control relies on evaluating action outcomes for adjusting subsequent action. Actions can be reinforced or devaluated given affective value of outcomes, notably in basal ganglia and medial prefrontal cortex. Additionally, outcomes convey information to adapt behavior in relation to internal beliefs, involving prefrontal cortex. Accordingly, action outcomes convey two major types of value signals: (1) Affective values, representing the valuation of action outcomes given subjective preferences and stemming from reinforcement learning; (2) Belief values about how actions map onto outcome contingencies and relating to Bayesian inference. However, how these two signals contribute to decision remains unclear, and previous experimental paradigms confounded them. In this PhD thesis, we investigated whether their dissociation is behaviorally and neurally relevant. We present several behavioral experiments dissociating these two signals, in the form of probabilistic reversal-learning tasks involving stochastic and changing reward structures. We built a model establishing the functional and computational foundations of such dissociation. It combined two parallel systems: reinforcement learning, modulating affective values, and Bayesian inference, monitoring beliefs. The model accounted for behavior better than many other alternative models. We then investigated whether beliefs and affective values have distinct neural bases using fMRI. BOLD signal was regressed against choice-dependent and choice-independent beliefs and affective values. Ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and midcingulate cortex (MCC) activity correlated with both choice-dependent variables. However, we found a double-dissociation regarding choice-independent variables, with VMPFC encoding choice-independent beliefs, whereas MCC encoded choice-independent affective values. Additionally, activity in lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) increased when decision values (i.e. mixture of beliefs and affective values) got closer to each other and action selection became more difficult. These results suggest that before decision, VMPFC and MCC separately encode beliefs and affective values respectively. LPFC combines both signals to decide, then feeds back choice information to these medial regions, presumably for updating these value signals according to action outcomes. These results provide new insight into the neural mechanisms of decision-making in prefrontal cortex.
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Marion Rouault. Integration of beliefs and affective values in human decision-making. Neuroscience. Ecole normale supérieure - ENS PARIS, 2015. English. ⟨NNT : 2015ENSU0052⟩. ⟨tel-01664172v2⟩

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