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Neural correlates of strategic reasoning during competitive games

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Science  17 Oct 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6207, pp. 340-343
DOI: 10.1126/science.1256254

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Abstract

Although human and animal behaviors are largely shaped by reinforcement and punishment, choices in social settings are also influenced by information about the knowledge and experience of other decision-makers. During competitive games, monkeys increased their payoffs by systematically deviating from a simple heuristic learning algorithm and thereby countering the predictable exploitation by their computer opponent. Neurons in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) signaled the animal’s recent choice and reward history that reflected the computer’s exploitative strategy. The strength of switching signals in the dmPFC also correlated with the animal’s tendency to deviate from the heuristic learning algorithm. Therefore, the dmPFC might provide control signals for overriding simple heuristic learning algorithms based on the inferred strategies of the opponent.

Smart monkeys can outwit a computer

What happens in the brain when we are learning to compete against an opponent? Seo et al. observed monkeys competing against a computer that can adapt to the monkey's behavior. The monkeys switched their learning strategies when they worked out that their opponent was reacting to their behavior. The responses of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex cells in the monkey brains predicted their choices and switches in strategies.

Science, this issue p. 340

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