Research Article

Foundations of human reasoning in the prefrontal cortex

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Science  27 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6191, pp. 1481-1486
DOI: 10.1126/science.1252254

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Selecting the most successful strategy

The brain's prefrontal cortex helps us to make decisions in an uncertain and constantly changing environment. Donoso et al. present a model of human reasoning as an algorithm implemented in the prefrontal cortex (see the Perspective by Hare). Brain-imaging experiments supported this model. Depending on the prevailing circumstances, human reasoning can either adapt ongoing behavioral strategies or switch to previously learned strategies. Only when neither approach is appropriate will the brain create new strategies.

Science, this issue p. 1481, see also p. 1446


The prefrontal cortex (PFC) subserves reasoning in the service of adaptive behavior. Little is known, however, about the architecture of reasoning processes in the PFC. Using computational modeling and neuroimaging, we show here that the human PFC has two concurrent inferential tracks: (i) one from ventromedial to dorsomedial PFC regions that makes probabilistic inferences about the reliability of the ongoing behavioral strategy and arbitrates between adjusting this strategy versus exploring new ones from long-term memory, and (ii) another from polar to lateral PFC regions that makes probabilistic inferences about the reliability of two or three alternative strategies and arbitrates between exploring new strategies versus exploiting these alternative ones. The two tracks interact and, along with the striatum, realize hypothesis testing for accepting versus rejecting newly created strategies.

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