Research by Yoanna Kurnianingsih and Dr. O’Dhaniel Mullette-Gillman identifies the dorsal anterior midcingulate cortex as the neural locus of the value-to-utility transformation.
Given a choice between a 100% chance of receiving $5 and a 20% chance of receiving $30, which option would you pick?
When making a decision, we often translate the objective value of our options to their subjective value (or utility) in order to choose the “best” option. For instance, while the expected objective value of a 20% chance of receiving $30 is $6, people may place a lower subjective value on this option than receiving a certain $5.
Which brain region encodes the information necessary for us to perform such value-to-utility transformations?
A recent study by Ph.D. candidate Yoanna Kurnianingsih, and Dr. O’Dhaniel Mullette-Gillman from the Department of Psychology in NUS, has localized the neural mechanisms of such transformations to the dorsal anterior midcingulate cortex (daMCC).
In their study, participants performed a risky monetary decision task while inside a MRI scanner. The task involved choosing between a gamble and a certain option (similar to the choice described earlier), or between two certain options. Participants made such choices in both gains (positive monetary values) and losses (negative monetary values) domains.
Increased daMCC activation was found to correspond to lowered subjective valuation, while deactivation of the daMCC corresponded to enhanced subjective valuation as a function of each individual’s idiosyncratic risk preference. This relationship between daMCC activation and the value-to-utility transformation is pictured above for both gains (top left) and losses (bottom left).
Based on their findings, the researchers have suggested that activation patterns in the daMCC before individuals are presented with the available options determine the value-to-utility transformation of these options, and subsequent decision-making.
In addition, two brain regions—the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and nucleus accumbens (NAcc)—were identified to have significant functional connectivity with the daMCC during value-to-utility transformations. These brain regions may allow for the integration of contextual information into the daMCC to set the value-to-utility transformation taking place, as well as modulation of valuation signals by outputs. The overlap of regions encoding the value-to-utility transformation across gains and losses is pictured above (right).
This work provides evidence for the specific functional role of the daMCC in integrating information on value, context, and individual risk preferences that is necessary to perform value-to-utility transformations during decision-making.
Kurnianingsih, Y. A., & Mullette-Gillman, O. A. (2016). Neural mechanisms of the transformation from objective value to subjective utility: Converting from count to worth. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 10:507. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2016.00507