What guides habitual seeking behavior explained – NovLink

Journal Reference:

  1. Joonyoung Kang, Hyeji Kim, Seong Hwan Hwang, Minjun Han, Sue-Hyun Lee, Hyoung F. Kim. Primate ventral striatum maintains neural representations of the value of previously rewarded objects for habitual seeking. Nature Communications, 2021; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-22335-5

Habitual seeking behavior involves strong stimulus responses, mostly rapid and automatic ones. The ventral striatum in the brain has been thought to be important for value learning and addictive behaviors. However, it was unclear if the ventral striatum processes and retains long-term memories that guide habitual seeking.

Professor Lee’s team reported a new role of the human ventral striatum where long-term memory of high-valued objects are retained as a single representation and may be used to evaluate visual stimuli automatically to guide habitual behavior.

“Our findings propose a role of the ventral striatum as a director that guides habitual behavior with the script of value information written in the past,” said Professor Lee.

The research team investigated whether learned values were retained in the ventral striatum while the subjects passively viewed previously learned objects in the absence of any immediate outcome. Neural responses in the ventral striatum during the incidental perception of learned objects were examined using fMRI and single-unit recording.

The study found significant value discrimination responses in the ventral striatum after learning and a retention period of several days. Moreover, the similarity of neural representations for good objects increased after learning, an outcome positively correlated with the habitual seeking response for good objects.

“These findings suggest that the ventral striatum plays a role in automatic evaluations of objects based on the neural representation of positive values retained since learning, to guide habitual seeking behaviors,” explained Professor Lee.

“We will fully investigate the function of different parts of the entire basal ganglia including the ventral striatum. We also expect that this understanding may lead to the development of better treatment for mental illnesses related to habitual behaviors or addiction problems.”

What guides habitual seeking behavior explained