Research with animals suggests that structures within the amygdaloid nuclear complex (ANC) are critical for acquiring associations between rewarding events and neutral stimuli, a form of conditioning often manifested in a subsequent preference for those (conditioned) stimuli. In this study, we investigated the relationship between the ANC and preference learning in humans. Three abstract monochrome patterns were presented to each subject over 180 trials in the context of a counting task requiring working memory. One pattern was paired with food reward on 90% of the trials in which it was presented and with no food reward on the other 10% of trials. The other patterns were similarly reinforced, but at ratios of 50:50% and 10:90% with reward and nonreward, respectively. Subsequently, a group of 21 normal participants preferred the pattern paired most often with reward to that paired least often with reward, and they did not explicitly relate their preferences to the conditioning procedure, but instead attributed them to the characteristics of the patterns themselves. Unlike the normal controls, a group of patients with unilateral surgical lesions that included the ANC (15 left, 18 right) did not show conditioned preferences, but performed normally on a measure of working memory. In contrast, 13 patients with unilateral damage confined to frontal cortex exhibited normal conditioned preferences but were impaired on the working memory task. This double dissociation provides clear evidence that, in humans as in other animals, reward-related learning (conditioned reward) critically depends on a circuit involving inferotemporal cortex and the ANC.
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