Neurons in the monkey medial frontal cortex signal when another monkey makes a decision error, according to a study published online this week in Nature Neuroscience. Monkeys and humans are known to be able to learn from others’ errors, and these results shed light on one brain area where the necessary information may be encoded.
Masaki Isoda and colleagues had pairs of monkeys take turns choosing between two options, one of which would result in the delivery of a reward to both animals, while the other option would result in no reward for either animal. Monkeys were able to use the outcomes of their partner’s actions to help them make better choices. In the medial frontal cortex, there was a group of neurons that increased their firing rates when the other monkey made an error. Activity for about half the neurons was correlated with the omission of reward in general, but the other half specifically responded to the erroneous action of the partner.
Previous work in humans has suggested that the medial frontal cortex is important for error monitoring when learning from others, but this is the first demonstration that there are neurons which exclusively represent others’ errors.