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The representation of economic value in the orbitofrontal cortex is invariant for changes of menu

Abstract

Economic choice entails assigning values to the available options and is impaired by lesions to the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Recent results show that some neurons in the OFC encode the values that monkeys (Macaca mulatta) assign to different goods when they choose between them. A broad and fundamental question is how this neuronal representation of value depends on the behavioral context. Here we show that neuronal responses in the OFC are typically invariant for changes of menu. In other words, the activity of a neuron in response to one particular good usually does not depend on what other goods are available at the same time. Neurons in the OFC encode economic value, not relative preference. The fact that their responses are menu invariant suggests that transitivity, a fundamental trait of economic choice, may be rooted in the activity of individual neurons.

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Figure 1: Experimental design.
Figure 2: Analysis of choice patterns.
Figure 3: Responses of three OFC neurons.
Figure 4: Menu invariance.
Figure 5: Explained variance.

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Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge A. Rustichini for many insightful discussions. We also thank A. Bisin, J. Maunsell, P. Glimcher and W. Schultz for helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This work was supported by a post-doctoral fellowship from the Harvard Mind/Brain/Behavior Initiative, by a Pathway to Independence Award from the National Institute of Mental Health to C.P.-S. (grant number K99-MH080852) and by a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to J.A.A. (grant number R01-NS41000).

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C.P.-S. designed the experiment, collected and analyzed the data, and wrote the manuscript. J.A.A. assisted in the study and in manuscript preparation.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Camillo Padoa-Schioppa.

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Padoa-Schioppa, C., Assad, J. The representation of economic value in the orbitofrontal cortex is invariant for changes of menu. Nat Neurosci 11, 95–102 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn2020

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