The posterior cingulate cortex (CGp) is a major hub of the default mode network (DMN), a set of cortical areas with high resting activity that declines during task performance. This relationship suggests that DMN activity contributes to mental processes that are antagonistic to performance. Alternatively, DMN may detect conditions under which performance is poor and marshal cognitive resources for improvement. To test this idea, we recorded activity of CGp neurons in monkeys performing a learning task while varying reward size and novelty. We found that CGp neurons responded to errors, and this activity was magnified by small reward and novel stimuli. Inactivating CGp with muscimol impaired new learning when rewards were small but had no effect when rewards were large; inactivation did not affect performance on well-learned associations. Thus, CGp, and by extension the DMN, may support learning, and possibly other cognitive processes, by monitoring performance and motivating exploration.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by NIH grants RO1 EY013496 (M.L.P.) and F31 DA028133 (S.R.H.). We thank Benjamin Hayden, John Pearson, and three anonymous reviewers for useful comments.