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Single-Dimensional Human Brain Signals for Two-Dimensional Economic Choice Options.

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Volkmann, Konstantin 
Pastor-Bernier, Alexandre 
Grabenhorst, Fabian 


Rewarding choice options typically contain multiple components, but neural signals in single brain voxels are scalar and primarily vary up or down. In a previous study, we had designed reward bundles that contained the same two milkshakes with independently set amounts; we had used psychophysics and rigorous economic concepts to estimate two-dimensional choice indifference curves (ICs) that represented revealed stochastic preferences for these bundles in a systematic, integrated manner. All bundles on the same ICs were equally revealed preferred (and thus had same utility, as inferred from choice indifference); bundles on higher ICs (higher utility) were preferred to bundles on lower ICs (lower utility). In the current study, we used the established behavior for testing with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We now demonstrate neural responses in reward-related brain structures of human female and male participants, including striatum, midbrain, and medial orbitofrontal cortex (mid-OFC) that followed the characteristic pattern of ICs: similar responses along ICs (same utility despite different bundle composition), but monotonic change across ICs (different utility). Thus, these brain structures integrated multiple reward components into a scalar signal, well beyond the known subjective value coding of single-component rewards.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Rewards have several components, like the taste and size of an apple, but it is unclear how each component contributes to the overall value of the reward. While choice indifference curves (ICs) of economic theory provide behavioral approaches to this question, it is unclear whether brain responses capture the preference and utility integrated from multiple components. We report activations in striatum, midbrain, and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) that follow choice ICs representing behavioral preferences over and above variations of individual reward components. In addition, the concept-driven approach encourages future studies on natural, multicomponent rewards that are prone to irrational choice of normal and brain-damaged individuals.



bundles, decision-making, fMRI, revealed preference, reward, stochastic choice, Adult, Brain, Choice Behavior, Economics, Behavioral, Female, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Photic Stimulation, Reward, Young Adult

Journal Title

J Neurosci

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Society for Neuroscience


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Wellcome Trust (095495/Z/11/Z)
Wellcome Trust (204811/Z/16/Z)
Wellcome Trust (206207/Z/17/Z)
Wellcome Trust
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