Project 2: Social Learning of Reward Value. J.P. O'Doherty, PI

While Project 1 investigates how we learn to make decisions from our own experience, much (probably most) of human choices are based on values that are not learned by direct experience, but through observation of other people.  Do the same neural substrates studied under Project 1 also subserve social learning? Is social reward learning modulated by the competence of the observed subject? This Project will be of special relevance for a better understanding of developmental disorders such as autism, which are known to have impairments in social learning.

 Project 2 leverages the same approach of fMRI in humans together with intracranial recordings in both humans and monkeys (it does not use fMRI in monkeys). It offers a major new and complementary approach to Project 1 in two respects. First, it investigates a new topic: Project 1 investigates how we process reward outcomes when we ourselves experience those rewards. Instead, Project 2 investigates how we process reward outcomes when we observe other people get those rewards. Such social learning is crucial to human decision-making and social behavior; arguably, we learn most of the values of things in the world through such observational learning rather than through direct experience. A second important respect in which Project 2 is highly complementary to Project 1 is in its focus on some additional brain structures. Not only will the PFC and amygdala be investigated, but there is a substantial emphasis on the basal ganglia as well.