An extensive literature from cognitive neuroscience examines the neural representation of value, but interpretations of these existing results are often complicated by the potential confound of saliency. At the same time, recent attempts to dissociate neural signals of value and saliency have not addressed their relationship with category information. Using a multi-category valuation task that incorporates rewards and punishments of different nature, we identify distributed neural representation of value, saliency, and category during outcome anticipation. Moreover, we reveal category encoding in multi-voxel blood-oxygen-level-dependent activity patterns of the vmPFC and the striatum that coexist with value signals. These results help clarify ambiguities regarding value and saliency encoding in the human brain and their category independence, lending strong support to the neural “common currency” hypothesis. Our results also point to potential novel mechanisms of integrating multiple aspects of decision-related information.
Stimulus category, saliency and value all affect the subjective value estimates that guide our decisions. Here, the authors systematically vary their stimuli along these three dimensions in humans and report category independent encoding of values and saliency in the vmPFC and striatum.