July 3, 2022

The Prefrontal Cortex: Reinforcement, Reward and Social Cognition

The prefrontal cortex. Image from Ramnani and Owen (2004) Nature Revs Neuroscience

Some of our work has investigated medial prefrontal and basal ganglia mechanisms that process rewards and the ways in which they come to influence motor behaviour and decision-making. We have also studied mechanisms in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) used for decision-making in social cognition.

Recent work  has been funded by an ESRC 1+3 PhD Studentship (see Matt Apps under ‘People’), and this has used imaging and computational methods to investigate activity related to social decision-making that can be explained in the context of reinforcement learning theory (RLT). We report evidence that a gyral portion of the ACC processes the predicted value of others’ actions and this area also responds when others’ predictions about the value of their actions are erroneous. Importantly, it does so in a manner that conforms to the principles of RLT.

Selected papers

  • Apps M, Lesage E and Ramnani N (in press), “Vicarious reinforcement learning signals when instructing others”, Journal of Neuroscience, 35(7):2904-1.
  • Apps MAJ and Ramnani N (2014), “The anterior cingulate gyrus signals the net-value of others’ rewards”, Journal of Neuroscience, 34(18):6190-200.
  • Apps MA, Balsters JH, Ramnani N (2012), “The anterior cingulate cortex: Monitoring the outcomes of others’ decisions”, Social Neuroscience, 7(4):424-35.
  • Ramnani N and Miall RC, (2004) “A system in the human brain for predicting the actions of others”, Nature Neuroscience, 2004, 7(1): 85 – 90. [Download PDF]
  • Ramnani N, Elliott, R, Athwal BS and Passingham RE (2004), “Prediction error for free monetary reward in the human prefrontal cortex”. NeuroImage, 23(3):777-768.
  • Rogers RD, Ramnani N, Mackay C, Wilson JL, Jezzard P, Carter CS, Smith SM (2004), “Distinct portions of anterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex are activated by reward processing in separable phases of decision-making cognition”, Biological Psychiatry, 55(6):594-602.
  • Ramnani N and Miall RC (2003), ”Instructed Delay Activity In The Human Prefrontal Cortex Is Modulated By Monetary Reward Expectation”, Cerebral Cortex, 13(3): 318-327.