Hierarchical rule switching in prefrontal cortex.
Yoshida W., Funakoshi H., Ishii S.
Most real-world decision-making problems involve consideration of numerous possible actions, and it is often impossible to evaluate all of them before settling on preferred strategy. In such situations, humans might explore actions more efficiently by searching only the most likely subspace of the whole action space. To study how the brain solves such action selection problems, we designed a Multi Feature Sorting Task in which the task rules defining an optimal action have a hierarchical structure and studied concurrent brain activity using it. The task consisted of two kinds of rule switches: a higher-order switch to search for a rule across different subspaces and a lower-order switch to change a rule within the same subspace. The results revealed that the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) was more active in the higher-order switching, and the right fronto-polar cortex (FPC) was significantly activated with the lower-order switching. We discuss a possible functional model in the prefrontal cortex where the left DLPFC encodes the hierarchical organization of behaviours and the right FPC maintains and updates multiple behavioural. This interpretation is highly consistent with the previous findings and current theories of hierarchical organization in the prefrontal functional network.