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Wanting to like: Motivation influences behavioral and neural responses to social feedback

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Abstract

Human beings revel in social approval and social connection. For example, individuals want to be liked, and frequently surround themselves with people who provide such positive reinforcement. Past work highlights a “common currency” between social rewards like social approval, and non-social rewards like money. But social and motivational contexts can reshape reward experiences considerably. Here, we examine the boundary conditions that deem social approval subjectively valuable. Participants received feedback about their attractiveness from others. Neural activity in reward-related brain structures (e.g., ventral striatum) increased in response to positive feedback, but only when such feedback came from well-liked targets. These heightened reward responses predicted increases in subsequent attraction to well-liked targets. This work suggests that motivational contexts amplify or diminish the value of social approval in a target-specific manner. The value of social approval is thus defined by the extent to which these experiences bring us closer to people we like.

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... Social neuroscience is quickly advancing towards a better understanding of how brain areas related to cognitive control interfere with this basic reward circuit. Recent work has revealed, for instance, that neural responses to social feedback are influenced by the social relation with the interaction partner [73] and that the reward valuation circuit is highly involved in shaping these relations [74]. Experimental designs that mimic interaction on social media [29,30] could clarify the role of different incentive systems for online engagement on opinion. ...
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A hypothesized need to form and maintain strong, stable interpersonal relationships is evaluated in light of the empirical literature. The need is for frequent, nonaversive interactions within an ongoing relational bond. Consistent with the belongingness hypothesis, people form social attachments readily under most conditions and resist the dissolution of existing bonds. Belongingness appears to have multiple and strong effects on emotional patterns and on cognitive processes. Lack of attachments is linked to a variety of ill effects on health, adjustment, and well-being. Other evidence, such as that concerning satiation, substitution, and behavioral consequences, is likewise consistent with the hypothesized motivation. Several seeming counterexamples turned out not to disconfirm the hypothesis. Existing evidence supports the hypothesis that the need to belong is a powerful, fundamental, and extremely pervasive motivation.
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Human beings can be proactive and engaged or, alternatively, passive and alienated, largely as a function of the social conditions in which they develop and function. Accordingly, research guided by self-determination theory has focused on the social-contextual conditions that facilitate versus forestall the natural processes of self-motivation and healthy psychological development. Specifically, factors have been examined that enhance versus undermine intrinsic motivation, self-regulation, and well-being. The findings have led to the postulate of three innate psychological needs--competence, autonomy, and relatedness--which when satisfied yield enhanced self-motivation and mental health and when thwarted lead to diminished motivation and well-being. Also considered is the significance of these psychological needs and processes within domains such as health care, education, work, sport, religion, and psychotherapy.
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Despite an increasing focus on the neural basis of human decision making in neuroscience, relatively little attention has been paid to decision making in social settings. Moreover, although human social decision making has been explored in a social psychology context, few neural explanations for the observed findings have been considered. To bridge this gap and improve models of human social decision making, we investigated whether acquiring a good reputation, which is an important incentive in human social behaviors, activates the same reward circuitry as monetary rewards. In total, 19 subjects participated in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments involving monetary and social rewards. The acquisition of one's good reputation robustly activated reward-related brain areas, notably the striatum, and these overlapped with the areas activated by monetary rewards. Our findings support the idea of a "common neural currency" for rewards and represent an important first step toward a neural explanation for complex human social behaviors.
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Five studies tested hypotheses derived from the sociometer model of self-esteem according to which the self-esteem system monitors others' reactions and alerts the individual to the possibility of social exclusion. Study 1 showed that the effects of events on participants' state self-esteem paralleled their assumptions about whether such events would lead others to accept or reject them. In Study 2, participants' ratings of how included they felt in a real social situation correlated highly with their self-esteem feelings. In Studies 3 and 4, social exclusion caused decreases in self-esteem when respondents were excluded from a group for personal reasons, but not when exclusion was random, but this effect was not mediated by self-presentation. Study 5 showed that trait self-esteem correlated highly with the degree to which respondents generally felt included versus excluded by other people. Overall, results provided converging evidence for the sociometer model.
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Decisions to engage in collaborative interactions require enduring considerable risk, yet provide the foundation for building and maintaining relationships. Here, we investigate the mechanisms underlying this process and test a computational model of social value to predict collaborative decision making. Twenty-six participants played an iterated trust game and chose to invest more frequently with their friends compared with a confederate or computer despite equal reinforcement rates. This behavior was predicted by our model, which posits that people receive a social value reward signal from reciprocation of collaborative decisions conditional on the closeness of the relationship. This social value signal was associated with increased activity in the ventral striatum and medial prefrontal cortex, which significantly predicted the reward parameters from the social value model. Therefore, we demonstrate that the computation of social value drives collaborative behavior in repeated interactions and provide a mechanistic account of reward circuit function instantiating this process. Copyright © 2015 the authors 0270-6474/15/358170-11$15.00/0.
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Goals and needs shape individuals' thinking, a phenomenon known as motivated cognition. We highlight research from social psychology and cognitive neuroscience that provides insight into the structure of motivated cognition. In addition to demonstrating its ubiquity, we suggest that motivated cognition is often effortless and pervades information processing. Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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Self-enhancement denotes a class of psychological phenomena that involve taking a tendentiously positive view of oneself. We distinguish between four levels of self-enhancement-an observed effect, an ongoing process, a personality trait, and an underlying motive-and then use these distinctions to organize the wealth of relevant research. Furthermore, to render these distinctions intuitive, we draw an extended analogy between self-enhancement and the phenomenon of eating. Among the topics we address are (a) manifestations of self-enhancement, both obvious and subtle, and rival interpretations; (b) experimentally documented dynamics of affirming and threatening the ego; and (c) primacy of self-enhancement, considered alongside other intrapsychic phenomena, and across different cultures. Self-enhancement, like eating, is a fundamental part of human nature. © 2008 Association for Psychological Science.
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Adolescence is a time of increasing emotional arousal, sensation-seeking and risk-taking, especially in the context of peers. Recent neuroscientific studies have pinpointed to the role of the ventral striatum as a brain region which is particularly sensitive to reward, and to 'social brain' regions, such as the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), the precuneus, and the temporal parietal junction, as being particularly responsive to social contexts. However, no study to date has examined adolescents' sensitivity to reward across different social contexts. In this study we examined 249 participants between the ages 8-25, on a monetary reward-processing task. Participants could win or lose money for themselves, their best friend and a disliked peer. Winning for self resulted in a mid- to late adolescent specific peak in neural activation in the ventral striatum, whereas winning for a disliked peer resulted in a mid- to late adolescent specific peak in the mPFC. Our findings reveal that ventral striatum and mPFC hypersensitivity in adolescence is dependent on social context. Taken together, these results suggest that increased risk-taking and sensation seeking observed in adolescence might not be purely related to hyperactivity of the ventral striatum, but that these behaviors are probably strongly related to the social context in which they occur.
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More than 40 years of research have shown that people favor members of their ingroup in their impressions, attitudes, and behaviors. Here, we propose that people also form different mental images of minimal ingroup and outgroup members, and we test the hypothesis that differences in these mental images contribute to the well-established biases that arise from minimal group categorization. In Study 1, participants were assigned to 1 of 2 groups using a classic minimal group paradigm. Next, a reverse correlation image classification procedure was used to create visual renderings of ingroup and outgroup face representations. Subsequently, a 2nd sample naive to the face generation stage rated these faces on a series of trait dimensions. The results indicated that the ingroup face was significantly more likely than the outgroup face to elicit favorable impressions (e.g., trusting, caring, intelligent, attractive). Extending this finding, Study 2 revealed that ingroup face representations elicited more favorable implicitly measured attitudes than did outgroup representations, and Study 3 showed that ingroup faces were trusted more than outgroup faces during an economic game. Finally, Study 4 demonstrated that facial physiognomy associated with trustworthiness more closely resembled the facial structure of the average ingroup than outgroup face representation. Together, these studies suggest that minimal group distinctions can elicit different mental representations, and that this visual bias is sufficient to elicit ingroup favoritism in impressions, attitudes and behaviors. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved).
Research from numerous corners of psychological inquiry suggests that self-assessments of skill and character are often flawed in substantive and systematic ways. We review empirical findings on the imperfect nature of self-assessment and discuss implications for three real-world domains: health, education, and the workplace. In general, people's self-views hold only a tenuous to modest relationship with their actual behavior and performance. The correlation between self-ratings of skill and actual performance in many domains is moderate to meager—indeed, at times, other people's predictions of a person's outcomes prove more accurate than that person's self-predictions. In addition, people overrate themselves. On average, people say that they are “above average” in skill (a conclusion that defies statistical possibility), overestimate the likelihood that they will engage in desirable behaviors and achieve favorable outcomes, furnish overly optimistic estimates of when they will complete future projects, and reach judgments with too much confidence. Several psychological processes conspire to produce flawed self-assessments. Research focusing on health echoes these findings. People are unrealistically optimistic about their own health risks compared with those of other people. They also overestimate how distinctive their opinions and preferences (e.g., discomfort with alcohol) are among their peers—a misperception that can have a deleterious impact on their health. Unable to anticipate how they would respond to emotion-laden situations, they mispredict the preferences of patients when asked to step in and make treatment decisions for them. Guided by mistaken but seemingly plausible theories of health and disease, people misdiagnose themselves—a phenomenon that can have severe consequences for their health and longevity. Similarly, research in education finds that students' assessments of their performance tend to agree only moderately with those of their teachers and mentors. Students seem largely unable to assess how well or poorly they have comprehended material they have just read. They also tend to be overconfident in newly learned skills, at times because the common educational practice of massed training appears to promote rapid acquisition of skill—as well as self-confidence—but not necessarily the retention of skill. Several interventions, however, can be introduced to prompt students to evaluate their skill and learning more accurately. In the workplace, flawed self-assessments arise all the way up the corporate ladder. Employees tend to overestimate their skill, making it difficult to give meaningful feedback. CEOs also display overconfidence in their judgments, particularly when stepping into new markets or novel projects—for example, proposing acquisitions that hurt, rather then help, the price of their company's stock. We discuss several interventions aimed at circumventing the consequences of such flawed assessments; these include training people to routinely make cognitive repairs correcting for biased self-assessments and requiring people to justify their decisions in front of their peers. The act of self-assessment is an intrinsically difficult task, and we enumerate several obstacles that prevent people from reaching truthful self-impressions. We also propose that researchers and practitioners should recognize self-assessment as a coherent and unified area of study spanning many subdisciplines of psychology and beyond. Finally, we suggest that policymakers and other people who makes real-world assessments should be wary of self-assessments of skill, expertise, and knowledge, and should consider ways of repairing self-assessments that may be flawed.
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One of the most robust ways that people protect themselves from social-evaluative threat is by emphasizing the desirability of their personal characteristics, yet the neural underpinnings of this fundamental process are unknown. The current fMRI study addresses this question by examining self-evaluations of desirability (in comparison with other people) as a response to threat. Participants judged how much personality traits described themselves in comparison with their average peer. These judgments were preceded by threatening or nonthreatening social-evaluative feedback. Self-evaluations made in response to threat significantly increased activation in a number of regions including the OFC, medial pFC, lateral pFC, amygdala, and insula. Individual differences in the extent to which threat increased desirability were significantly correlated with medial OFC activity. This is the first study to examine the neural associations of a fundamental self-protection strategy: responding to threat by emphasizing the self's desirability. Although neural research has separately examined self-evaluation processes from the regulation of social-evaluative threat, little is known about the interplay between the two. The findings build on this previous research by showing that regions, often associated with self-evaluation, are modulated by the degree to which people respond to threat by emphasizing their own desirability.
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Psychobiological accounts of face processing predict that greater salience is attributed to faces matching a viewer's sexual preference than to faces that do not. However, behaviorally, this effect could only be demonstrated in tasks assessing reward 'wanting' (e.g. work-per-view-tasks) but not in tasks assessing 'liking' (e.g. facial attractiveness ratings), and has been found to be more pronounced in heterosexual men than women, especially with regard to very attractive faces. Here, we addressed the question if sex-differences at the level of 'wanting' persist if participants are uninformed about the attractiveness of an anticipated male or female face. Seventeen heterosexual men and 13 heterosexual women (all single) participated in a social incentive delay task (SID). Participants were required to react on simple graphical cues in order to view a smiling face. Cues provided a priori information on the level of smile intensity (low/ medium/ high) as well as sex of the face (male/ female). A significant interaction of sex-of-face and sex-of-participant was observed in a priori defined regions of interest in the brain reward system (including ventral tegmental area, nucleus accumbens and ventromedial prefrontal cortex), reflecting enhanced activation to cues signaling opposite-sex faces relative to same-sex faces in both, men and women. Women additionally recruited the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) during processing of opposite- vs. same-sex cues, suggesting stronger incorporation of social cognition processes in women than men. The findings speak against a general male bias for opposite-sex faces. Instead they provide preliminary evidence that men and women recruit different brain circuits during reward value assessment of facial stimuli.
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Everyday goals and experiences are often shared with others who may hold different places within our social networks. We investigated whether the experience of sharing a reward differs with respect to social network. Twenty human participants played a card guessing game for shared monetary outcomes with three partners: a computer, a confederate (out of network), and a friend (in network). Participants subjectively rated the experience of sharing a reward more positively with their friends than the other partners. Neuroimaging results support participants' subjective reports, as ventral striatal BOLD responses were more robust when sharing monetary gains with a friend as compared to the confederate or computer, suggesting a higher value for sharing with an in-network partner. Interestingly, ratings of social closeness covaried with this activity, resulting in a significant partner × closeness interaction; exploratory analysis showed that only participants reporting higher levels of closeness demonstrated partner-related differences in striatal BOLD response. These results suggest that reward valuation in social contexts is sensitive to distinctions of social network, such that sharing positive experiences with in-network others may carry higher value.
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Social influence--individuals' tendency to conform to the beliefs and attitudes of others--has interested psychologists for decades. However, it has traditionally been difficult to distinguish true modification of attitudes from mere public compliance with social norms; this study addressed this challenge using functional neuroimaging. Participants rated the attractiveness of faces and subsequently learned how their peers ostensibly rated each face. Participants were then scanned using functional MRI while they rated each face a second time. The second ratings were influenced by social norms: Participants changed their ratings to conform to those of their peers. This social influence was accompanied by modulated engagement of two brain regions associated with coding subjective value--the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal cortex--a finding suggesting that exposure to social norms affected participants' neural representations of value assigned to stimuli. These findings document the utility of neuroimaging to demonstrate the private acceptance of social norms.
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Intergroup competition makes social identity salient, which in turn affects how people respond to competitors' hardships. The failures of an in-group member are painful, whereas those of a rival out-group member may give pleasure-a feeling that may motivate harming rivals. The present study examined whether valuation-related neural responses to rival groups' failures correlate with likelihood of harming individuals associated with those rivals. Avid fans of the Red Sox and Yankees teams viewed baseball plays while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. Subjectively negative outcomes (failure of the favored team or success of the rival team) activated anterior cingulate cortex and insula, whereas positive outcomes (success of the favored team or failure of the rival team, even against a third team) activated ventral striatum. The ventral striatum effect, associated with subjective pleasure, also correlated with self-reported likelihood of aggressing against a fan of the rival team (controlling for general aggression). Outcomes of social group competition can directly affect primary reward-processing neural systems, which has implications for intergroup harm.
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Little is known about the neurobiological mechanisms underlying prosocial decisions and how they are modulated by social factors such as perceived group membership. The present study investigates the neural processes preceding the willingness to engage in costly helping toward ingroup and outgroup members. Soccer fans witnessed a fan of their favorite team (ingroup member) or of a rival team (outgroup member) experience pain. They were subsequently able to choose to help the other by enduring physical pain themselves to reduce the other's pain. Helping the ingroup member was best predicted by anterior insula activation when seeing him suffer and by associated self-reports of empathic concern. In contrast, not helping the outgroup member was best predicted by nucleus accumbens activation and the degree of negative evaluation of the other. We conclude that empathy-related insula activation can motivate costly helping, whereas an antagonistic signal in nucleus accumbens reduces the propensity to help.
Article
Self-esteem is a facet of personality that influences perception of social standing and modulates the salience of social acceptance and rejection. As such, self-esteem may bias neural responses to positive and negative social feedback across individuals. During functional magnetic resonance imaging scanning, participants (n = 42) engaged in a social evaluation task whereby they ostensibly received feedback from peers indicating they were liked or disliked. Results demonstrated that individuals with low self-esteem believed that they received less positive feedback from others and showed enhanced activity to positive versus negative social feedback in the ventral anterior cingulate cortex/medial prefrontal cortex (vACC/mPFC). By contrast, vACC/mPFC activity was insensitive to positive versus negative feedback in individuals with high self-esteem, and these individuals consistently overestimated the amount of positive feedback received from peers. Voxelwise analyses supported these findings; lower self-esteem predicted a linear increase in vACC/mPFC response to positive versus negative social feedback. Taken together, the present findings propose a functional role for the vACC/mPFC in representing the salience of social feedback and shaping perceptions of relative social standing.
Article
It is proposed that motivation may affect reasoning through reliance on a biased set of cognitive processes--that is, strategies for accessing, constructing, and evaluating beliefs. The motivation to be accurate enhances use of those beliefs and strategies that are considered most appropriate, whereas the motivation to arrive at particular conclusions enhances use of those that are considered most likely to yield the desired conclusion. There is considerable evidence that people are more likely to arrive at conclusions that they want to arrive at, but their ability to do so is constrained by their ability to construct seemingly reasonable justifications for these conclusions. These ideas can account for a wide variety of research concerned with motivated reasoning.
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Many prominent theorists have argued that accurate perceptions of the self, the world, and the future are essential for mental health. Yet considerable research evidence suggests that overly positive self-evaluations, exaggerated perceptions of control or mastery, and unrealistic optimism are characteristic of normal human thought. Moreover, these illusions appear to promote other criteria of mental health, including the ability to care about others, the ability to be happy or contented, and the ability to engage in productive and creative work. These strategies may succeed, in large part, because both the social world and cognitive-processing mechanisms impose filters on incoming information that distort it in a positive direction; negative information may be isolated and represented in as unthreatening a manner as possible. These positive illusions may be especially useful when an individual receives negative feedback or is otherwise threatened and may be especially adaptive under these circumstances.
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What are the neural substrates of food reward? Are reward and pleasure identical? Can taste pleasure be assessed in animals? Is reward necessarily conscious? These questions have re-emerged in recent years, and there is now sufficient evidence to prompt re-examination of many preconceptions concerning reward and its relation to brain systems. This paper reviews evidence from many sources regarding both the psychological structure of food reward and the neural systems that mediate it. Special attention is paid to recent evidence from "tasty reactivity" studies of affective reactions to food. I argue that this evidence suggests the following surprising possibilities regarding the functional components and brain substrates of food reward. (1) Reward contains distinguishable psychological or functional components--"liking" (pleasure/palatability) and "wanting" (appetite/incentive motivation). These can be manipulated and measured separately. (2) Liking and wanting have separable neural substrates. Mediation of liking related to food reward involves neurotransmitter systems such as opioid and GABA/benzodiazepine systems, and anatomical structures such as ventral pallidum and brainstem primary gustatory relays. Mediation of wanting related to food reward involves mesotelencephalic dopamine systems, and divisions of nucleus accumbens and amygdala. Both liking and wanting arise from vastly distributed neural systems, but the two systems are separable. (3) Neural processing of food reward is not confined to the limbic forebrain. Aspects of food reward begin to be processed in the brainstem. A neural manipulation can enhance reward or produce aversion but no single lesion or transection is likely abolish all properties of food reward. (4) Both wanting and liking can exist without subjective awareness. Conscious experience can distort or blur the underlying reward process that gave rise to it. Subjective reports may contain false assessments of underlying processes, or even fail at all to register important reward processes. The core processes of liking and wanting that constitute reward are distinct from the subjective report or conscious awareness of those processes.
Article
Instrumental behaviour is controlled by two systems: a stimulus-response habit mechanism and a goal-directed process that involves two forms of learning. The first is learning about the instrumental contingency between the response and reward, whereas the second consists of the acquisition of incentive value by the reward. Evidence for contingency learning comes from studies of reward devaluation and from demonstrations that instrumental performance is sensitive not only the probability of contiguous reward but also to the probability of unpaired rewards. The process of incentive learning is evident in the acquisition of control over performance by primary motivational states. Preliminary lesion studies of the rat suggest that the prelimbic area of prefrontal cortex plays a role in the contingency learning, whereas the incentive learning for food rewards involves the insular cortex.
Article
Research suggests that the basal ganglia complex is a major component of the neural circuitry that mediates reward-related processing. However, human studies have not yet characterized the response of the basal ganglia to an isolated reward, as has been done in animals. We developed an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging paradigm to identify brain areas that are activated after presentation of a reward. Subjects guessed whether the value of a card was higher or lower than the number 5, with monetary rewards as an incentive for correct guesses. They received reward, punishment, or neutral feedback on different trials. Regions in the dorsal and ventral striatum were activated by the paradigm, showing differential responses to reward and punishment. Activation was sustained following a reward feedback, but decreased below baseline following a punishment feedback.
Article
The brain circuitry processing rewarding and aversive stimuli is hypothesized to be at the core of motivated behavior. In this study, discrete categories of beautiful faces are shown to have differing reward values and to differentially activate reward circuitry in human subjects. In particular, young heterosexual males rate pictures of beautiful males and females as attractive, but exert effort via a keypress procedure only to view pictures of attractive females. Functional magnetic resonance imaging at 3 T shows that passive viewing of beautiful female faces activates reward circuitry, in particular the nucleus accumbens. An extended set of subcortical and paralimbic reward regions also appear to follow aspects of the keypress rather than the rating procedures, suggesting that reward circuitry function does not include aesthetic assessment.
Article
Cooperation based on reciprocal altruism has evolved in only a small number of species, yet it constitutes the core behavioral principle of human social life. The iterated Prisoner's Dilemma Game has been used to model this form of cooperation. We used fMRI to scan 36 women as they played an iterated Prisoner's Dilemma Game with another woman to investigate the neurobiological basis of cooperative social behavior. Mutual cooperation was associated with consistent activation in brain areas that have been linked with reward processing: nucleus accumbens, the caudate nucleus, ventromedial frontal/orbitofrontal cortex, and rostral anterior cingulate cortex. We propose that activation of this neural network positively reinforces reciprocal altruism, thereby motivating subjects to resist the temptation to selfishly accept but not reciprocate favors.
Article
A recent flurry of neuroimaging and decision-making experiments in humans, when combined with single-unit data from orbitofrontal cortex, suggests major additions to current models of reward processing. We review these data and models and use them to develop a specific computational relationship between the value of a predictor and the future rewards or punishments that it promises. The resulting computational model, the predictor-valuation model (PVM), is shown to anticipate a class of single-unit neural responses in orbitofrontal and striatal neurons. The model also suggests how neural responses in the orbitofrontal-striatal circuit may support the conversion of disparate types of future rewards into a kind of internal currency, that is, a common scale used to compare the valuation of future behavioral acts or stimuli.