Right ventromedial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices mediate adaptive decisions under ambiguity by integrating choice utility and outcome evaluation.
Christakou, A., Brammer, M., Giampietro, V. and Rubia, K. (2009) Right ventromedial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices mediate adaptive decisions under ambiguity by integrating choice utility and outcome evaluation. The Journal of Neuroscience , 29 (35). pp. 11020-8. ISSN 1529-2401
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1279-09.2009
The Iowa gambling task (IGT) is one of the most influential behavioral paradigms in reward-related decision making and has been, most notably, associated with ventromedial prefrontal cortex function. However, performance in the IGT relies on a complex set of cognitive subprocesses, in particular integrating information about the outcome of choices into a continuously updated decision strategy under ambiguous conditions. The complexity of the task has made it difficult for neuroimaging studies to disentangle the underlying neurocognitive processes. In this study, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging in combination with a novel adaptation of the task, which allowed us to examine separately activation associated with the moment of decision or the evaluation of decision outcomes. Importantly, using whole-brain regression analyses with individual performance, in combination with the choice/outcome history of individual subjects, we aimed to identify the neural overlap between areas that are involved in the evaluation of outcomes and in the progressive discrimination of the relative value of available choice options, thus mapping the two fundamental cognitive processes that lead to adaptive decision making. We show that activation in right ventromedial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was predictive of adaptive performance, in both discriminating disadvantageous from advantageous decisions and confirming negative decision outcomes. We propose that these two prefrontal areas mediate shifting away from disadvantageous choices through their sensitivity to accumulating negative outcomes. These findings provide functional evidence of the underlying processes by which these prefrontal subregions drive adaptive choice in the task, namely through contingency-sensitive outcome evaluation.