Abstract

The dorsal striatum plays a key role in the learning and expression of instrumental reward associations that are acquired through direct experience. However, not all learning about instrumental actions require direct experience. Instead, humans and other animals are also capable of acquiring instrumental actions by observing the experiences of others. In this study, we investigated the extent to which human dorsal striatum is involved in observational as well as experiential instrumental reward learning. Human participants were scanned with fMRI while they observed a confederate over a live video performing an instrumental conditioning task to obtain liquid juice rewards. Participants also performed a similar instrumental task for their own rewards. Using a computational model-based analysis, we found reward prediction errors in the dorsal striatum not only during the experiential learning condition but also during observational learning. These results suggest a key role for the dorsal striatum in learning instrumental associations, even when those associations are acquired purely by observing others.

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