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When striking a balance between commitment to a goal and flexibility in the face of better options, people often demonstrate strong goal perseveration. Here, using functional MRI (n = 30) and lesion patient (n = 26) studies, we argue that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) drives goal commitment linked to changes in goal-directed selective attention. Participants performed an incremental goal pursuit task involving sequential decisions between persisting with a goal versus abandoning progress for better alternative options. Individuals with stronger goal perseveration showed higher goal-directed attention in an interleaved attention task. Increasing goal-directed attention also affected abandonment decisions: while pursuing a goal, people lost their sensitivity to valuable alternative goals while remaining more sensitive to changes in the current goal. In a healthy population, individual differences in both commitment biases and goal-oriented attention were predicted by baseline goal-related activity in the vmPFC. Among lesion patients, vmPFC damage reduced goal commitment, leading to a performance benefit.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Hum Behav

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