Anterior cingulate and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (ACC and dlPFC, respectively) are core components of the cognitive control network. Activation of these regions is routinely observed in tasks that involve monitoring the external environment and maintaining information in order to generate appropriate responses. Despite the ubiquity of studies reporting coactivation of these two regions, a consensus on how they interact to support cognitive control has yet to emerge. In this letter, we present a new hypothesis and computational model of ACC and dlPFC. The error representation hypothesis states that multidimensional error signals generated by ACC in response to surprising outcomes are used to train representations of expected error in dlPFC, which are then associated with relevant task stimuli. Error representations maintained in dlPFC are in turn used to modulate predictive activity in ACC in order to generate better estimates of the likely outcomes of actions. We formalize the error representation hypothesis in a new computational model based on our previous model of ACC. The hierarchical error representation (HER) model of ACC/dlPFC suggests a mechanism by which hierarchically organized layers within ACC and dlPFC interact in order to solve sophisticated cognitive tasks. In a series of simulations, we demonstrate the ability of the HER model to autonomously learn to perform structured tasks in a manner comparable to human performance, and we show that the HER model outperforms current deep learning networks by an order of magnitude.

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