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Title: Linking actions to outcomes in the frontal lobe
Author: Noonan, MaryAnn Philomena
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2010
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Behaviour is guided by accumulated experience, valuation and comparison. While many aspects associated with these functions are mediated by the frontal lobes, the precise contribution from particular regions remains debated. This thesis will deal with how an organism comes to select an option and will specifically focus on the role of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) in two mechanisms in this process: learning of outcome specificities and selecting between multiple options based on their expected values. Despite evidence emphasizing anatomical and connective heterogeneity within this structure, the OFC is often regarded as a uniform region. This thesis aims to resolve some of this uncertainty by assuming that the medial and lateral regions of the OFC contribute differentially to learning and decision-making. Two distinct methodologies were used in these investigations. First, the contribution of the medial OFC to social and emotional processing was examined. The findings from this study disprove previously held beliefs that the medial regions of the OFC guide social and emotional behaviours, but indicted a role for this region in value-guided decision-making. The second study examined functional differences between the lateral and medial OFC by making circumscribed lesions to either region in macaque monkeys. The animals performed a number of 3-armed bandit tasks which were designed to investigate different aspects of value assignment and comparison. The results show that while lateral OFC was required for "credit assignment" – the correct assignment of values to visual cues – medial OFC was critical for comparison of the cues' values during decision-making. In unchanging probabilistic environments, mOFC lesions induced decision-making impairments when value comparison was difficult without affecting credit assignment and associative learning. By contrast, lateral OFC lesions caused the opposite pattern of impairment. The final study used human-neuroimaging techniques to investigate the differential representation of outcome-specific contingency learning and found not only that the expectation of a unique outcome facilitated learning and memory recall but that this was supported by a neural network which included the lateral regions of the OFC and the anterior cingulate cortex. Activity in the mOFC did not correlate with outcome-specific contingency learning but instead reflected both the value associated with the receipt and expectation of a reward. Taken together, the results from this thesis suggest that specific parts of the OFC make markedly different contributions to these very different cognitive functions.
Supervisor: Rushworth, Matthew F. Sponsor: Wellcome Trust
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Neuroscience ; Cognitive Neuroscience ; Learning ; decision-making ; social cognition ; emotional processing ; orbitofrontal cortex ; non-human primate lesion ; functional magnetic resonance imaging