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Title: From actions to agents : value representation in frontal cortex
Author: Wittmann, Marco
ISNI:       0000 0004 6498 7713
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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In this thesis, I investigated computational and neural mechanisms underlying foraging-related behavior in humans. A consideration of the ecological constraints under which mammalian behavior first evolved guided my investigation of learning and decision-making in frontal cortex. When engaged in foraging, animals have to figure out how profitable their actions are and whether it is better to continue foraging in their current environment or to switch to an alternative. They have to track the reward income of their actions over time and also take into account that the actions of other foraging animals have a direct influence on their reward income (Chapter 1). Based on these observations, I looked at similar types of behavior in humans using computational modeling and functional magnetic resonance imaging. I studied how people evaluate the profitability of their actions over time (Chapter 2). Dorsal anterior cingulate cortex carried a detailed representation of the value of the current foraging action, which was influenced by reward memories with different time constants (Chapter 3). Tracking the reward income of one's actions is not only important in order to learn about the profitability of the environment, it can also inform estimates of one's own and other people's abilities. Ability estimates can be used in a direct way to predict the reward outcome that the actions of one's own self and others will have. I found that people learn about their own and others' abilities in a rational manner but also that ability estimates of self and other were partly confused with each other, depending on whether subjects cooperated or competed with each other (Chapter 4). The confusion effect is reflected in Brodmann area 9 activity indicating that area 9 integrates self and other related information. Perigenual anterior cingulate tracked the ability estimates for oneself, suggesting that it might compute the success expectation of an action independent of particular features of the environment (Chapter 5). In sum, different subregions of medial frontal cortex carried different types of action-related value representations that can guide decision-making.
Supervisor: Rushworth, Matthew Sponsor: Wellcome Trust
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Cognitive neuroscience ; Psychology ; cognitive Neuroscience ; Decision making ; Learning ; Reward