How the brain integrates costs and benefits during decision making


When we make decisions, the benefits of an option often need to be weighed against accompanying costs. Little is known, however, about the neural systems underlying such cost-benefit computations. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and choice modeling, we show that decision making based on cost-benefit comparison can be explained as a stochastic accumulation of cost-benefit difference. Model-driven functional MRI shows that ventromedial and left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex compare costs and benefits by computing the difference between neural signatures of anticipated benefits and costs from the ventral striatum and amygdala, respectively. Moreover, changes in blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal in the bilateral middle intraparietal sulcus reflect the accumulation of the difference signal from ventromedial prefrontal cortex. In sum, we show that a neurophysiological mechanism previously established for perceptual decision making, that is, the difference-based accumulation of evidence, is fundamental also in value-based decisions. The brain, thus, weighs costs against benefits by combining neural benefit and cost signals into a single, difference-based neural representation of net value, which is accumulated over time until the individual decides to accept or reject an option.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (107)
Guido Biele
Guido Biele

My research interests include statistical and cognitive modeling around ADHD.