Abstract

Instrumental actions are a vital cognitive asset that endows an organism with sensitivity to the consequences of its behavior. Response–outcome feedback allows responding to be shaped in order to maximize beneficial, and minimize detrimental, outcomes. Lesions of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) result in behavior that is insensitive to changes in outcome value in animals and compulsive behavior in several human psychopathologies. Such insensitivity to changes in outcome value is a defining characteristic of instrumental habits: responses that are controlled by antecedent stimuli rather than goal expectancy. Little is known regarding the neurochemical substrates mediating this sensitivity. The present experiments used sensitivity to posttraining outcome devaluation to index the action–habit status of instrumental responding. Infusions of dopamine into the ventral mPFC (vmPFC), but not dorsal mPFC, restored outcome sensitivity bidirectionally—decreasing responding following outcome devaluation and increasing responding when the outcome was not devalued. This bidirectionality makes the possibility that these infusions nonspecifically dysregulated vmPFC dopamine transmission unlikely. VmPFC dopamine promoted instrumental responding appropriate to outcome value. Reinforcer consumption data indicated that this was not a consequence of altered sensitivity to the reinforcer itself. We suggest that vmPFC dopamine reengages attentional processes underlying goal-directed behavior.

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