Prefrontal mechanisms combining rewards and beliefs in human decision-making

Abstract : In uncertain and changing environments, optimal decision-making requires integrating reward expectations with probabilistic beliefs about reward contingencies. Little is known, however, about how the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which subserves decision-making, combines these quantities. Here, using computational modelling and neuroimaging, we show that the ventromedial PFC encodes both reward expectations and proper beliefs about reward contingencies, while the dorsomedial PFC combines these quantities and guides choices that are at variance with those predicted by optimal decision theory: instead of integrating reward expectations with beliefs, the dorsomedial PFC built context-dependent reward expectations commensurable to beliefs and used these quantities as two concurrent appetitive components, driving choices. This neural mechanism accounts for well-known risk aversion effects in human decision-making. The results reveal that the irrationality of human choices commonly theorized as deriving from optimal computations over false beliefs, actually stems from suboptimal neural heuristics over rational beliefs about reward contingencies.
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Marion Rouault, Jan Drugowitsch, Etienne Koechlin. Prefrontal mechanisms combining rewards and beliefs in human decision-making. Nature Communications, Nature Publishing Group, 2019, 10 (1), ⟨10.1038/s41467-018-08121-w⟩. ⟨hal-01987443⟩

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