Decision Making Journal Club

The habenula encodes negative motivational value associated with primary punishment in humans

Organisms must learn adaptively about environmental cue–outcome associations to survive. Studies in nonhuman primates suggest that a small phylogenetically conserved brain structure, the habenula, encodes the values of cues previously paired with aversive outcomes. However, such a role for the habenula has never been demonstrated in humans. We establish that the habenula encodes associations with aversive outcomes in humans, specifically that it tracks the dynamically changing negative values of cues paired with painful electric shocks, consistent with a role in learning. Importantly, habenula responses predicted the extent to which individuals withdrew from or approached negative and positive cues, respectively. These results suggest that the habenula plays a central role in driving aversively motivated learning and behavior in humans.