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      Neurons in the Frontal Lobe Encode the Value of Multiple Decision Variables

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      Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

      MIT Press - Journals

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          Abstract

          A central question in behavioral science is how we select among choice alternatives to obtain consistently the most beneficial outcomes. Three variables are particularly important when making a decision: the potential payoff, the probability of success, and the cost in terms of time and effort. A key brain region in decision making is the frontal cortex as damage here impairs the ability to make optimal choices across a range of decision types. We simultaneously recorded the activity of multiple single neurons in the frontal cortex while subjects made choices involving the three aforementioned decision variables. This enabled us to contrast the relative contribution of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), the orbito-frontal cortex, and the lateral prefrontal cortex to the decision-making process. Neurons in all three areas encoded value relating to choices involving probability, payoff, or cost manipulations. However, the most significant signals were in the ACC, where neurons encoded multiplexed representations of the three different decision variables. This supports the notion that the ACC is an important component of the neural circuitry underlying optimal decision making.

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          Separate neural systems value immediate and delayed monetary rewards.

          When humans are offered the choice between rewards available at different points in time, the relative values of the options are discounted according to their expected delays until delivery. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we examined the neural correlates of time discounting while subjects made a series of choices between monetary reward options that varied by delay to delivery. We demonstrate that two separate systems are involved in such decisions. Parts of the limbic system associated with the midbrain dopamine system, including paralimbic cortex, are preferentially activated by decisions involving immediately available rewards. In contrast, regions of the lateral prefrontal cortex and posterior parietal cortex are engaged uniformly by intertemporal choices irrespective of delay. Furthermore, the relative engagement of the two systems is directly associated with subjects' choices, with greater relative fronto-parietal activity when subjects choose longer term options.
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            Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk

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              Neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex encode economic value.

              Economic choice is the behaviour observed when individuals select one among many available options. There is no intrinsically 'correct' answer: economic choice depends on subjective preferences. This behaviour is traditionally the object of economic analysis and is also of primary interest in psychology. However, the underlying mental processes and neuronal mechanisms are not well understood. Theories of human and animal choice have a cornerstone in the concept of 'value'. Consider, for example, a monkey offered one raisin versus one piece of apple: behavioural evidence suggests that the animal chooses by assigning values to the two options. But where and how values are represented in the brain is unclear. Here we show that, during economic choice, neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) encode the value of offered and chosen goods. Notably, OFC neurons encode value independently of visuospatial factors and motor responses. If a monkey chooses between A and B, neurons in the OFC encode the value of the two goods independently of whether A is presented on the right and B on the left, or vice versa. This trait distinguishes the OFC from other brain areas in which value modulates activity related to sensory or motor processes. Our results have broad implications for possible psychological models, suggesting that economic choice is essentially choice between goods rather than choice between actions. In this framework, neurons in the OFC seem to be a good candidate network for value assignment underlying economic choice.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
                Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
                MIT Press - Journals
                0898-929X
                1530-8898
                June 2009
                June 2009
                : 21
                : 6
                : 1162-1178
                Affiliations
                [1 ]University of California, Berkeley
                Article
                10.1162/jocn.2009.21100
                2715848
                18752411
                © 2009

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