Distinct regions of anterior cingulate cortex signal prediction and outcome evaluation

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A number of theories have been proposed to account for the role of anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the broader medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in cognition. The recent Prediction of Response Outcome (PRO) computational model casts the mPFC in part as performing two theoretically distinct functions: learning to predict the various possible outcomes of actions, and then evaluating those predictions against the actual outcomes. Simulations have shown that this new model can account for an unprecedented range of known mPFC effects, but the central theory of distinct prediction and evaluation mechanisms within ACC remains untested. Using combined computational neural modeling and fMRI, we show here that prediction and evaluation signals are indeed each represented in the ACC, and furthermore, they are represented in distinct regions within ACC.

Our task independently manipulated both the number of predicted outcomes and the degree to which outcomes violated expectancies, the former providing assessment of regions sensitive to prediction and the latter providing assessment of regions sensitive to evaluation. Using quantitative regressors derived from the PRO computational model, we show that prediction-based model signals load on a network including the posterior and perigenual ACC, but outcome evaluation model signals load on the mid-dorsal ACC. These findings are consistent with distinct prediction and evaluation signals as posited by the PRO model and provide new perspective on a large set of known effects within ACC.

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