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The neural correlates of subjective value during intertemporal choice

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Neuroimaging studies of decision-making have generally related neural activity to objective measures (such as reward magnitude, probability or delay), despite choice preferences being subjective. However, economic theories posit that decision-makers behave as though different options have different subjective values. Here we use functional magnetic resonance imaging to show that neural activity in several brain regions—particularly the ventral striatum, medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex—tracks the revealed subjective value of delayed monetary rewards. This similarity provides unambiguous evidence that the subjective value of potential rewards is explicitly represented in the human brain.

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Figure 1: Intertemporal choice task.
Figure 2: Subject-specific discount functions.
Figure 3: Group analysis showing areas in which activity is correlated with subjective value.
Figure 4: Single-subject analyses showing areas in which activity correlated with subjective value.
Figure 5: Single-subject time courses and neural discount functions.
Figure 6: Psychometric-neurometric comparisons.
Figure 7: Single-subject example of unbiased value ROIs and resulting neural discount functions.
Figure 8: Neural activity tracks subjective value, and not a more impulsive (β) or more patient (δ) estimate of value.

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  • 11 November 2007

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We thank A. Bisin, A. Caplin, M. Grantner, D. Heeger and I. Levy for their comments on earlier versions of this paper. This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (F32-MH75544 to J.W.K. and R01-NS054775 to P.W.G.), the McDonnell Foundation (to P.W.G.) and the Seaver Foundation.

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Correspondence to Joseph W Kable or Paul W Glimcher.

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Kable, J., Glimcher, P. The neural correlates of subjective value during intertemporal choice. Nat Neurosci 10, 1625–1633 (2007).

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