The Interaction of probability learning and prefrontal cortex

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2012
Gözenman, Filiz
Probability learning is the ability to establish a relationship between stimulus and outcomes based on occurrence probabilities using repetitive feedbacks. Participants learn the task according to the cue-outcome relationship, and try to gain in depth understanding of this relationship throughout the experiment. While learning is at the highest level, people rely on their working memory. In this study 20 participants were presented a probability learning task, and their prefrontal cortex activity was measured with functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy. It was hypothesized that as participants gain more knowledge of the probabilities they will learn cue-outcome relationships and therefore rely less on their working memory. Therefore as learning precedes a drop in the fNIRS signal is expected. We obtained results confirming our hypothesis: Significant negative correlation between dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activity and learning was found. Similarly, response time also decreased through the task, indicating that as learning precedes participants made decisions faster. Participants used either the frequency matching or the maximization strategy in order to solve the task in which they had to decide whether the blue or the red color was winning. When they use the frequency matching strategy they chose blue at the rate of winning for the blue choice. When they use the maximization strategy they chosed blue almost always. Our task was designed such that the frequency for blue to win was 80%. We had hypothesized that the people in frequency matching and maximization groups would show working memory differences which could be observed from the fNIRS signal. However, we were unable to detect this type of behavioral difference in the fNIRS signal. Overall, our study showed the relationship between probability learning and working memory as depicted by brain activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex which widely known as the central executive component of working memory.