Prefrontal neural activity when feedback is not relevant to adjust performance

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It has been shown that the rostral cingulate zone (RCZ) in humans uses both positive and negative feedback to evaluate performance and to flexibly adjust behaviour. Less is known on how the feedback types are processed by the RCZ and other prefrontal brain areas, when feedback can only be used to evaluate performance, but cannot be used to adjust behaviour. The present fMRI study aimed at investigating feedback that can only be used to evaluate performance in a word-learning paradigm. One group of volunteers (N = 17) received informative, performance-dependent positive or negative feedback after each trial. Since new words had to be learnt in each trial, the feedback could not be used for task-specific adaptations. The other group (N = 17) always received non-informative feedback, providing neither information about performance nor about possible task-specific adaptations. Effects of the informational value of feedback were assessed between-subjects, comparing trials with positive and negative informative feedback to non-informative feedback. Effects of feedback valence were assessed by comparing neural activity to positive and negative feedback within the informative-feedback group. Our results show that several prefrontal regions, including the pre-SMA, the inferior frontal cortex and the insula were sensitive to both, the informational value and the valence aspect of the feedback with stronger activations to informative as compared to non-informative feedback and to informative negative compared to informative positive feedback. The only exception was RCZ which was sensitive to the informational value of the feedback, but not to feedback valence. The findings indicate that outcome information per se is sufficient to activate prefrontal brain regions, with the RCZ being the only prefrontal brain region which is equally sensitive to positive and negative feedback. © 2012 Özyurt et al.




Özyurt, J., Rietze, M., & Thiel, C. M. (2012). Prefrontal neural activity when feedback is not relevant to adjust performance. PLoS ONE, 7(5).

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