Decision Making Journal Club

Neural Mechanisms of Credit Assignment in a Multicue Environment

In complex environments, many potential cues can guide a decision or be assigned responsibility for the outcome of the decision. We know little, however, about how humans and animals select relevant information sources that should guide behavior. We show that subjects solve this relevance selection and credit assignment problem by selecting one cue and its association with a particular outcome as the main focus of a hypothesis. To do this, we examined learning while using a task design that allowed us to estimate the focus of each subject’s hypotheses on a trial-by-trial basis. When a prediction is confirmed by the outcome, then credit for the outcome is assigned to that cue rather than an alternative. Activity in medial frontal cortex is associated with the assignment of credit to the cue that is the main focus of the hypothesis. However, when the outcome disconfirms a prediction, the focus shifts between cues, and the credit for the outcome is assigned to an alternative cue. This process of reselection for credit assignment to an alternative cue is associated with lateral orbitofrontal cortex.