Goal-direction and top-down control

Timothy J. Buschman, Earl K. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


We review the neural mechanisms that support top-down control of behaviour and suggest that goal-directed behaviour uses two systems that work in concert. A basal ganglia-centred system quickly learns simple, fixed goal-directed behaviours whileaprefrontal cortex-centred system gradually learns more complex (abstract or long-term) goal-directed behaviours. Interactions between these two systems allow top-down control mechanisms to learn how to direct behaviour towards a goal but also how to guide behaviour when faced with a novel situation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1655
StatePublished - Nov 5 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • Basal ganglia
  • Cognition
  • Frontal lobe
  • Goal direction
  • Learning


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