Goal-oriented and habitual decisions : neural signatures of model-based and model-free learning

Yi HUANG, Zachary A. YAPLE, Rongjun YU*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Human decision-making is mainly driven by two fundamental learning processes: a slow, deliberative, goal-directed model-based process that maps out the potential outcomes of all options and a rapid habitual model-free process that enables reflexive repetition of previously successful choices. Although many model-informed neuroimaging studies have examined the neural correlates of model-based and model-free learning, the concordant activity among these two processes remains unclear. We used quantitative meta-analyses of functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments to identify the concordant activity pertaining to model-based and model-free learning over a range of reward-related paradigms. We found that: 1) both processes yielded concordant ventral striatum activity, 2) model-based learning activated the medial prefrontal cortex and orbital frontal cortex, and 3) model-free learning specifically activated the left globus pallidus and right caudate head. Our findings suggest that model-free and model-based decision making engage overlapping yet distinct neural regions. These stereotaxic maps improve our understanding of how deliberative goal-directed and reflexive habitual learning are implemented in the brain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116834
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
Early online date10 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding: Ministry of Health (MOH) Singapore National Medical Research Council (NMRC) (OFYIRG17may052 to [R.Y.]).


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