Is ventromedial prefrontal cortex critical for behavior change without external reinforcement?
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Description: Cue-approach training (CAT) is a novel paradigm that has been shown to induce preference changes towards items without external reinforcements. In the task the mere association of a neutral cue and a speeded button response has been shown to induce a behavioral choice preference change lasting months. This paradigm includes several phases: after the training of individual items, behavior change is manifested in binary choices of items with similar initial values. Neuroimaging data have implicated the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) in the choice phase of this task. However, the neural mechanisms underlying the preference changes induced by training remain unclear. Here, we asked whether the ventromedial frontal lobe (VMF) is critical for the non-reinforced preference change induced by CAT. For this purpose, 11 participants with focal lesions involving the VMF and 30 healthy age-matched controls performed the CAT. The VMF group was similar to the healthy age-matched control group in the ranking and training phases. As a group, the healthy age-matched controls exhibited a training-induced behavior change, while the VMF group did not. However, in an individual level analysis we found that some of the VMF participants showed a significant preference shift. Thus, we find mixed evidence for the role of VMF in this value-based choice updating paradigm. This is a first step towards defining the mechanisms underlying the novel form of behavioral change that occurs with CAT.