Monday, May 04, 2009

Risk-dependent reward value signal in human prefrontal cortex

From Tobler et al., observations on brain activity during risk-reward situations that emphasize lateral prefrontal cortex, while the risk-reward study referenced in my April 25 post points at ventral medial prefrontal cortex. It is because of this kind of variation in results reported by different labs that one has to wait a bit for a concensus to emerge on structure-function correlations. Here is the Tobler et al. abstract:
When making choices under uncertainty, people usually consider both the expected value and risk of each option, and choose the one with the higher utility. Expected value increases the expected utility of an option for all individuals. Risk increases the utility of an option for risk-seeking individuals, but decreases it for risk averse individuals. In 2 separate experiments, one involving imperative (no-choice), the other choice situations, we investigated how predicted risk and expected value aggregate into a common reward signal in the human brain. Blood oxygen level dependent responses in lateral regions of the prefrontal cortex increased monotonically with increasing reward value in the absence of risk in both experiments. Risk enhanced these responses in risk-seeking participants, but reduced them in risk-averse participants. The aggregate value and risk responses in lateral prefrontal cortex contrasted with pure value signals independent of risk in the striatum. These results demonstrate an aggregate risk and value signal in the prefrontal cortex that would be compatible with basic assumptions underlying the mean-variance approach to utility.

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