Observational learning computations in neurons of the human anterior cingulate cortex

Michael R. Hill*, Erie D. Boorman, Itzhak Fried

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When learning from direct experience, neurons in the primate brain have been shown to encode a teaching signal used by algorithms in artificial intelligence: the reward prediction error (PE) - the difference between how rewarding an event is, and how rewarding it was expected to be. However, in humans and other species learning often takes place by observing other individuals. Here, we show that, when humans observe other players in a card game, neurons in their rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) encode both the expected value of an observed choice, and the PE after the outcome was revealed. Notably, during the same task neurons recorded in the amygdala (AMY) and the rostromedial prefrontal cortex (rmPFC) do not exhibit this type of encoding. Our results suggest that humans learn by observing others, at least in part through the encoding of observational PEs in single neurons in the rACC.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12722
JournalNature Communications
StatePublished - 6 Sep 2016


FundersFunder number
Wellcome TrustWT088977MF
G. Harold and Leila Y. Mathers Foundation09212007
Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen ForschungPBSKP3-124730


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