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Taking stock of value in the orbitofrontal cortex

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Abstract

People with damage to the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) have specific problems making decisions, whereas their other cognitive functions are spared. Neurophysiological studies have shown that OFC neurons fire in proportion to the value of anticipated outcomes. Thus, a central role of the OFC is to guide optimal decision-making by signalling values associated with different choices. Until recently, this view of OFC function dominated the field. New data, however, suggest that the OFC may have a much broader role in cognition by representing cognitive maps that can be used to guide behaviour and that value is just one of many variables that are important for behavioural control. In this Review, we critically evaluate these two alternative accounts of OFC function and examine how they might be reconciled.

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Fig. 1: During decision-making, the OFC flip-flops between representing the value of either option.
Fig. 2: The relationship between the state-transition graph and value.
Fig. 3: An illustrative example of the flexibility of cognitive maps.
Fig. 4: Responses in human vmPFC reflect encoding of state information.
Fig. 5: Value place neurons in the primate hippocampus.

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Acknowledgements

J.D.W. was supported by grants from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) R01-MH117763, R01-MH121448 and R01-NS116623 during the writing of this manuscript.

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Glossary

Secondary reinforcer

A reward or punishment whose value is learned (for example, money) through its association with a primary reinforcer whose value is innate (for example, food).

Repetition suppression

A reduction in the magnitude of the evoked blood oxygen level-dependent response when a stimulus is presented repeatedly.

Reinforcement learning

The process by which an agent learns to predict and maximize future reward.

Inference

The process of deriving logical conclusions from known premises.

Decision primitives

Parameters that are combined to calculate the value of a reward; for example, a food reward might include size, probability of occurrence and calories.

Episodic memories

Memories of personal experiences that are tied to specific times and places.

Bayesian inference

A statistical approach that uses Bayes theorem to determine how much to update one’s belief given a new piece of evidence.

Graph theory

A branch of mathematics that focuses on understanding networks. A graph consists of vertices (also called nodes) that are connected by edges (also called lines).

Successor representation

A map of the environment that estimates the predictive relationships between different states of the environment.

Perseverate

To continue to repeat a previously rewarded action even when it no longer leads to reward.

Behaviourist theory

The theory that psychology can be objectively studied only through observable actions; it arose as a reaction to nineteenth-century psychology, which focused on introspection.

Susceptibility artefacts

Artefacts that occur during MRI at air–tissue boundaries; they are particularly serious for brain areas close to sinuses.

Wisconsin card sorting test

A neuropsychological test in which participants sort cards according to rules such as shape or colour. Patients with frontal lobe damage have difficulty switching between rules.

Visuomotor conditional task

A task that requires subjects to follow a conditional ‘if–then’ rule, in which the ‘if’ is a visual stimulus and the ‘then’ is a motor response.

Rock–paper–scissors game

Two players simultaneously make one of three hand shapes: rock, paper or scissors. Rock beats scissors, scissors beat paper, and paper beats rock.

Place neurons

Hippocampal neurons that fire whenever an animal is in a specific location.

Sharp-wave ripples

Oscillations that are characteristics of electrical activity in the mammalian hippocampus; they are of large amplitude and high frequency (100–250 Hz).

Ecological validity

The degree to which a laboratory test predicts behaviour in real-world settings.

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Knudsen, E.B., Wallis, J.D. Taking stock of value in the orbitofrontal cortex. Nat Rev Neurosci 23, 428–438 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41583-022-00589-2

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