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  • Action-outcome

    When there is a causal relationship between the action and the reward.

    Action-outcome decision

    Model-based. A decision that involves some form of evaluation (not necessarily conscious) of the expected outcomes.

    Anterior cingulate cortex

    Anterior portion of the cingulate cortex, located below the frontal love along the medial surface. This region is characterized by a primitive cytoarchitecture (three-layered cortex) and is part of the interface between the frontal lobe and the limbic system. The anterior cingulate cortex is implicated in various executive functions, such as response monitoring, error detection, and attention.

    Cognitive control

    Also referred to as "executive function." Allows us to use our perceptions, knowledge, and goals to bias the selection of action and thoughts from a multitude of possibilities. Cognitive control processes allow us to override automatic thoughts and behavior and step out of the realm of habitual responses. They give us cognitive flexibility, letting us think and act in novel and creative ways. Essential for purposeful goal-oriented behavior and decision making.

    Delayed-response task

    A task in which the correct response must be produced after a delay period of several seconds. Such tasks require the operation of working memory because the animal or person must maintain a record of the stimulus information during the delay period.

    Descriptive decision theories

    Decision-making theories that attempt to describe what people actually do, not what they should do.


    Dopamine system plays a role in decision making. An organic chemical amine that in the brain functions as a neurotransmitter. It is formed from L-DOPA by removing a carboxyl group.

    Dynamic filtering

    The hypothesis that a key component of working memory involves the selection of information that is most relevant, given current task demands. This selection is thought to be accomplished through the filtering, or exclusion of, potentially interfering and irrelevant information.

    Error-related negativity (ERN)

    Localized to the anterior cingulate. The large evoked response that sweeps over the PFC just after movement is initiated that is an incorrect response.

    Frontal pole (FP)

    The most anterior part of the prefrontal cortex, including area 10 and parts of area 9. This region is hypothesized to play a critical role in the hierarchical representation of action goals.

    Goal-oriented actions

    Actions based on the assessment of an expected reward or value and the knowledge that there is a causal relationship between the action and the reward. Goal-oriented actions stand in contrast to more habitually or stimulus driven behavior and are strongly under the control of reinforcement.

    Goal-oriented behavior

    Behavior that allows us to interact in the world in a purposeful manner. Goals reflect the intersection of our internal desires and drives, coupled with the current environmental context.


    An action that is no longer under the control of a reward, but is stimulus driven; as such, we can consider it automatic.

    Inhibitory control

    The hypothesis that one aspect of executive functions is the regulation of habitual responses or environmentally dictated actions bty active inhibition. A loss of inhibitory control is assumed to underlie the tendency of some patients with prefrontal lesions to produce socially inappropriate behavior.

    Lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC)

    The region of the cerebral cortex that lies anterior to Broadmann area 6, along the lateral surface. This region has been implicated in various executive functions, such as working memory and response selection.

    Medial frontal cortex (MFC)

    The medial region of the frontal cortex that includes parts of areas 24, 32, and inferior aspects of 6 and 8. The medial frontal cortex is associated with cognitive control --- in particular, monitoring functions for error detection and resolving conflict.

    Mesocortical pathway

    Dopaminergic neurons headed to the neocortex take the mesocortical pathway from the VTA.


    The executive function associated with evaluating whether current representations and/or actions are conducive to the achievement of current goals. Errors can be avoided or corrected by a monitoring system. One of the hypothesized operations of a supervisory attentional system.

    Normative decision theories

    Decision-making theories that define how people ought to make decisions that yield the optimal choice.

    Nucleus accumbens

    Ventral striatum of the basal ganglia, important in emotional processing. Associated with the reward system of the brain, showing changes in activity in response to both primary and secondary reinforcers.

    Orbitofrontal cortex (OFC)

    A region of the frontal love, located above the orbits of the eyes, that is implicated in a range of functions. Including perceptual processes associated with olfaction and taste, as well as those associated with monitoring whether one's behavior is appropriate.


    Persisting in a response even after being told that it is incorrect. The tendency to produce a particular response on successive trials, even when the context has changed such that response is no longer appropriate. Commonly observed in patients with prefrontal damage, perseveration is thought to reflect a loss of inhibitory control.

    Prediction error (PE)

    A signal that represents the difference between the obtained reward and the expected reward. A theoretical construct in theories of reinforcement learning that is defined as the difference between an expected and actual outcome or reward. If the reward is greater than expected, a positive prediction occurs which can be used to increase the likelihood of the behavior. If the reward is less than expected, the negative prediction can be used to decrease the likelihood of the behavior.

    Prefrontal cortex (PFC)

    A region of the cortex that takes part in the higher aspects of motor control and the planning and execution of behavior, perhaps especially tasks that require the integration of information over time and thus mandate the involvement of working memory mechanisms.

    Primary reinforcer

    Rewards such as food, water, or sex that have a direct benefit for survival fitness. Their value, or our response to these reinforces, is to some extent hard-wired in our genetic code.

    Recency memory

    The ability to organize and segregate the timing or order of events in memory. Recency is a form of episodic memory in that it involves remembering when a specific event took place. Patients with prefrontal lesions do poorly on tests of recency memory, even though their long-term memory is relatively intact.

    Response conflict

    A situation in which more than one response is activated, usually because of some ambiguity in the stimulus information. It has been hypothesized that the anterior cingulate monitors the level of response conflict and modulates processing in active systems when conflict is high.

    Secondary reinforcer

    Rewards such as money and status that have no intrinsic value themselves but become rewarding through their association with other forms of reinforcement.


    One of the nuclei of the basal ganglia. The striatum is the main receiving zone of the basal ganglia, receiving extensive inputs from the cerebral cortex and other subcortical structures. The striatum in humans is composed of the caudate and putamen nuclei.

    Stimulus-response decision

    Model-free. Behavior in which the response is tightly linked to the stimulus, usually through extensive experience.

    Supervisory attentional system (SAS)

    This can supersede contention scheduling. The SAS is essential for ensuring that behavior is flexible by allowing us to override automatic behavior. It is a mechanism for favoring certain schema control units to reflect the demands of the situation or to emphasize some goals over others. The SAS is a psychological model of cognitive control.

    Utilization behavior

    Extreme dependency on prototypical responses for guiding behavior, rather than the particular context.


    An abstract entity referring to the overall preference given to a stimulus or action. The value is assumed to reflect the combination of a number of different attributes such as how much reward will be received , the likelihood of that reward, and the efforts and costs required to achieve the reward.

    Ventral tegmental area

    Part of the dopamine system. Dopaminergic neurons originating here project through either the mesolimbic pathway, or the mesocortical pathway.

    Working memory

    A type of short-term memory. It is the transient representation of task-relevant information. The "blackboard of the mind." Working memory refers to the temporary maintenance of this information, providing an interface between perception, long-term memory, and action and thus, enabling goal-oriented behavior and decision making. Working memory integrates current perceptual information with stored knowledge from long-term memory.

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