Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Neuroscience

First Advisor

Joshua I. Gold

Abstract

Learning from experience is critical for adaptive decision-making. When the world is unpredictable, the learning process itself must be adaptive. Outcomes that are attributed to a fundamental change in the environment should have a large impact on behavioral adjustment, whereas outcomes that are attributed to noisy, but expected, fluctuations in an otherwise stable environment should be largely ignored. There is growing interest in understanding the neural mechanisms of adaptive learning. However, studies to date have primarily used functional magnetic resonance imaging, which has limited temporal and spatial resolution. Relatively little is therefore known about how the brain implements adaptive learning at the level of individual neurons. Here, I advance the thesis that two reciprocally connected regions of the cingulate cortex—the anterior and the posterior cingulate cortex—contribute to adaptive learning by encoding environmental context and by encoding outcomes in a context-dependent manner. I support this thesis with recordings from individual neurons in the ACC and the PCC in monkeys performing an adaptive learning task.

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