Cognitive Regulation during Decision Making Shifts Behavioral Control between Ventromedial and Dorsolateral Prefrontal Value Systems
Cognitive regulation is often used to influence behavioral outcomes. However, the computational and neurobiological mechanisms by which it affects behavior remain unknown. We studied this issue using an fMRI task in which human participants used cognitive regulation to upregulate and downregulate their cravings for foods at the time of choice. We found that activity in both ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) correlated with value. We also found evidence that two distinct regulatory mechanisms were at work: value modulation, which operates by changing the values assigned to foods in vmPFC and dlPFC at the time of choice, and behavioral control modulation, which operates by changing the relative influence of the vmPFC and dlPFC value signals on the action selection process used to make choices. In particular, during downregulation, activation decreased in the value-sensitive region of dlPFC (indicating value modulation) but not in vmPFC, and the relative contribution of the two value signals to behavior shifted toward the dlPFC (indicating behavioral control modulation). The opposite pattern was observed during upregulation: activation increased in vmPFC but not dlPFC, and the relative contribution to behavior shifted toward the vmPFC. Finally, ventrolateral PFC and posterior parietal cortex were more active during both upregulation and downregulation, and were functionally connected with vmPFC and dlPFC during cognitive regulation, which suggests that they help to implement the changes to the decision-making circuitry generated by cognitive regulation.