Prefrontal Representations Underlying Goal-Directed Behavior

  • Jonathan D. Wallis


An important function of prefrontal cortex is the control and organization of goal-directed behavior. This chapter will examine the neuronal mechanisms that underlie this function. One can broadly group these mechanisms according to their level of abstraction. At the simplest level are behaviors directed towards basic goals of homeostatic maintenance, for example maximizing energy intake or minimizing energy expenditure. Prefrontal neurons represent the expected outcomes of actions directed towards such goals. At a more complex level, prefrontal neurons encode representations of arbitrary relationships in the world, such as those between specific sensory stimuli and specific actions. For example, knowledge that a red traffic light means stop, while green means go. Finally, at the most abstract level prefrontal neurons represent rules and concepts, such as number or similarity. Taken together these representations ensure optimal action selection, so that behavior efficiently satisfies one’s goals.


Orbitofrontal Cortex Response Association Inferior Temporal Cortex Reward Information Prefrontal Neuron 
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© Springer 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan D. Wallis
    • 1
  1. 1.Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and Department of PsychologyUniversity of California at BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA

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