The human brain excels at constructing and using abstractions, such as rules, or concepts. Here, in two fMRI experiments, we demonstrate a mechanism of abstraction built upon the valuation of sensory features. Human volunteers learned novel association rules based on simple visual features. Reinforcement-learning algorithms revealed that, with learning, high-value abstract representations increasingly guided participant behaviour, resulting in better choices and higher subjective confidence. We also found that the brain area computing value signals - the ventromedial prefrontal cortex - prioritized and selected latent task elements during abstraction, both locally and through its connection to the visual cortex. Such a coding scheme predicts a causal role for valuation. Hence, in a second experiment, we used multivoxel neural reinforcement to test for the causality of feature valuation in the sensory cortex, as a mechanism of abstraction. Tagging the neural representation of a task feature with rewards evoked abstraction-based decisions. Together, these findings provide a novel interpretation of value as a goal-dependent, key factor in forging abstract representations.
All data generated or analysed during this study are included in the manuscript and supporting files. Source data files have been provided for Figures 1-6.
- Aurelio Cortese
- Mitsuo Kawato
- Aurelio Cortese
- Mitsuo Kawato
- Pradyumna Sepulveda
- Benedetto De Martino
The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.
Human subjects: All experiments and data analyses were conducted at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR). The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of ATR with ethics protocol numbers 18-122, 19-122, 20-122. All participants gave written informed consent.
- Thorsten Kahnt, Northwestern University, United States
© 2021, Cortese et al.
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.
The process of brain folding is thought to play an important role in the development and organisation of the cerebrum and the cerebellum. The study of cerebellar folding is challenging due to the small size and abundance of its folia. In consequence, little is known about its anatomical diversity and evolution. We constituted an open collection of histological data from 56 mammalian species and manually segmented the cerebrum and the cerebellum. We developed methods to measure the geometry of cerebellar folia and to estimate the thickness of the molecular layer. We used phylogenetic comparative methods to study the diversity and evolution of cerebellar folding and its relationship with the anatomy of the cerebrum. Our results show that the evolution of cerebellar and cerebral anatomy follows a stabilising selection process. We observed 2 groups of phenotypes changing concertedly through evolution: a group of 'diverse' phenotypes - varying over several orders of magnitude together with body size, and a group of 'stable' phenotypes varying over less than 1 order of magnitude across species. Our analyses confirmed the strong correlation between cerebral and cerebellar volumes across species, and showed in addition that large cerebella are disproportionately more folded than smaller ones. Compared with the extreme variations in cerebellar surface area, folial anatomy and molecular layer thickness varied only slightly, showing a much smaller increase in the larger cerebella. We discuss how these findings could provide new insights into the diversity and evolution of cerebellar folding, the mechanisms of cerebellar and cerebral folding, and their potential influence on the organisation of the brain across species.
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