Upfront and personal: Scientists model human reasoning in the brain’s prefrontal cortex
Located at the forward end of the brain’s frontal lobe, the mammalian prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the seat of many of our most unique cognitive abilities – collectively referred to as executive function – including planning, decision-making, and coordinating thoughts and actions with internal goals. That said, perhaps its most important attribute – one that is apparently unique to H. sapiens – is reasoning which, based on Bayesian, or probabilistic, inference, mitigates uncertainty by informing adaptive behavior. While the structural details of this remarkable process have historically remained elusive, scientists at Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, Paris, and Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris and Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris have recently employed computational modeling and neuroimaging to show that the human prefrontal cortex involves two interactive reasoning pathways that embody hypothesis testing for evaluating, accepting and rejecting behavioral strategies. More specifically, their model describes behavior guided by reason in the form of an online algorithm combining Bayesian inference applied to multiple stored strategies with hypothesis testing that can update these strategies. In addition – as proposed in a previous work – the scientists conclude that since the frontopolar cortex (FPC), located in the anterior-most portion of the frontal lobes, is human-specific and is a key component in executive function decision-making, the ability to make inferences on concurrent strategies and decide to switch directly to one of these alternative strategies is unique to humans as well.
Prof. Etienne Koechlin discussed the paper that he, Dr. Maël Donoso and Dr. Anne G. E. Collins published in Science.