Decision Making Journal Club

Neural dynamics of reward probability coding: a Magnetoencephalographic study in humans

Prediction of future rewards and discrepancy between actual and expected outcomes (prediction error) are crucial signals for adaptive behavior. In humans, a number of fMRI studies demonstrated that reward probability modulates these two signals in a large brain network. Yet, the spatio-temporal dynamics underlying the neural coding of reward probability remains unknown. Here, using magnetoencephalography, we investigated the neural dynamics of prediction and reward prediction error computations while subjects learned to associate cues of slot machines with monetary rewards with different probabilities. We showed that event-related magnetic fields (ERFs) arising from the visual cortex coded the expected reward value 155 ms after the cue, demonstrating that reward value signals emerge early in the visual stream. Moreover, a prediction error was reflected in ERF peaking 300 ms after the rewarded outcome and showing decreasing amplitude with higher reward probability. This prediction error signal was generated in a network including the anterior and posterior cingulate cortex. These findings pinpoint the spatio-temporal characteristics underlying reward probability coding. Together, our results provide insights into the neural dynamics underlying the ability to learn probabilistic stimuli-reward contingencies.