How The Brain Learns To Control Itself

Dorsal anterior cingulate-brainstem ensemble as a reinforcement meta-learner

PLOS Computational Biology

Eliana Vassena
Elger Abrahamse
Tom Verguts

 

https://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006370

 

 

 

Optimal decision-making is based on integrating information from several dimensions of decisional space (e.g., reward expectation, cost estimation, effort exertion). Despite considerable empirical and theoretical efforts, the computational and neural bases of such multidimensional integration have remained largely elusive. Here we propose that the current theoretical stalemate may be broken by considering the computational properties of a cortical-subcortical circuit involving the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and the brainstem neuromodulatory nuclei: ventral tegmental area (VTA) and locus coeruleus (LC). From this perspective, the dACC optimizes decisions about stimuli and actions, and using the same computational machinery, it also modulates cortical functions (meta-learning), via neuromodulatory control (VTA and LC). We implemented this theory in a novel neuro-computational model–the Reinforcement Meta Learner (RML). We outline how the RML captures critical empirical findings from an unprecedented range of theoretical domains, and parsimoniously integrates various previous proposals on dACC functioning.