Rewards obtained from specific behaviors can and do change across time. To adapt to such conditions, humans need to represent and update associations between behaviors and their outcomes. Much previous work focused on how rewards affect the processing of specific tasks. However, abstract associations between multiple potential behaviors and multiple rewards are an important basis for adaptation as well. In this experiment, we directly investigated which brain areas represent associations between multiple tasks and rewards, using time-resolved multivariate pattern analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging data. Importantly, we were able to dissociate neural signals reflecting task–reward associations from those related to task preparation and reward expectation processes, variables that were often correlated in previous research. We hypothesized that brain regions involved in processing tasks and/or rewards will be involved in processing associations between them. Candidate areas included the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in associating simple actions and rewards, and the parietal cortex, which has been shown to represent task rules and action values. Our results indicate that local spatial activation patterns in the inferior parietal cortex indeed represent task–reward associations. Interestingly, the parietal cortex flexibly changes its content of representation within trials. It first represents task–reward associations, later switching to process tasks and rewards directly. These findings highlight the importance of the inferior parietal cortex in associating behaviors with their outcomes and further show that it can flexibly reconfigure its function within single trials.
- Cognitive control
- Multivariate pattern analysis
- Parietal cortex
ASJC Scopus subject areas