Deciding how to decide: Ventromedial frontal lobe damage affects information acquisition in multi-attribute decision making

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Brain (Impact Factor: 9.2). 05/2006; 129(Pt 4):944-52. DOI: 10.1093/brain/awl017
Source: PubMed


Ventromedial frontal lobe (VMF) damage is associated with impaired decision making. Recent efforts to understand the functions of this brain region have focused on its role in tracking reward, punishment and risk. However, decision making is complex, and frontal lobe damage might be expected to affect it at other levels. This study used process-tracing techniques to explore the effect of VMF damage on multi-attribute decision making under certainty. Thirteen subjects with focal VMF damage were compared with 11 subjects with frontal damage that spared the VMF and 21 demographically matched healthy control subjects. Participants chose rental apartments in a standard information board task drawn from the literature on normal decision making. VMF subjects performed the decision making task in a way that differed markedly from all other groups, favouring an 'alternative-based' information acquisition strategy (i.e. they organized their information search around individual apartments). In contrast, both healthy control subjects and subjects with damage predominantly involving dorsal and/or lateral prefrontal cortex pursued primarily 'attribute-based' search strategies (in which information was acquired about categories such as rent and noise level across several apartments). This difference in the pattern of information acquisition argues for systematic differences in the underlying decision heuristics and strategies employed by subjects with VMF damage, which in turn may affect the quality of their choices. These findings suggest that the processes supported by ventral and medial prefrontal cortex need to be conceptualized more broadly, to account for changes in decision making under conditions of certainty, as well as uncertainty, following damage to these areas.

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    • "While there was no " optimal " choice in the current study, it is worth noting that after making their choice, which always consisted of two options, participants were presented with eight choice-relevant information options. While previous research has demonstrated that vmPFC function is involved in decision-making in the context of multiple options (Chau et al., 2014; Noonan et al., 2010), other studies have shown that vmPFC injury does not alter initial decision times even for complex choices (Fellows, 2006). The data in the current study are consistent with the notion that vmPFC patients' impairment in decision certainty may emerge in more complex post-decisional situations, as in the post-choice bets (5 options) made in the study by Rogers et al. (1999), and as in the real world where many post-decisional options are often available. "
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    ABSTRACT: The certainty that one feels following a decision increases decision-making efficiency, but can also result in decreased decision accuracy. In the current study, a neuropsychological approach was used to examine the impact of damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) on core psychological processes promoting decision certainty: selective exposure, overconfidence, and decisiveness. Given previous research demonstrating that vmPFC damage disrupts the generation of negative emotional (somatic) states that have been associated with selective exposure and overconfidence, it was hypothesized that damage to the vmPFC would disrupt engagement in selective exposure, decrease overconfidence, and increase indecision. Individuals with vmPFC damage exhibited increased indecision, but contrary to our hypothesis, engaged in similar levels of selective exposure and overconfidence as the comparison groups. These results indicate that indecision may be an important psychological mechanism involved in decision-making impairments associated with vmPFC injury. The results also suggest that the vmPFC may not be critical for selective exposure or overconfidence, which provides support for a recent "desirability" account of selective exposure. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2015 · Neuropsychologia
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    • "By contrast, vmPFC's importance for value-guided choice has been established largely in the human literature. Patients with lesions to vmPFC become indecisive about even trivial decisions (Barrash et al., 2000); choices that are made are often made poorly (Bechara et al., 1994, 2000) and according to unusual strategies (Fellows, 2006). In human imaging experiments, neural activity in this region often contains value representations consistent with a decision (Basten et al., 2010; Boorman et al., 2009; Jocham et al., 2012; Kolling et al., 2012); and the balance of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters in vmPFC impacts both on this neural signature and on behaviour in a fashion consistent with competitive models of choice (Jocham et al., 2012). "
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    ABSTRACT: Two long-standing traditions have highlighted cortical decision mechanisms in the parietal and prefrontal cortices of primates, but it has not been clear how these processes differ, or when each cortical region may influence behaviour. Recent data from ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and posterior parietal cortex (PPC) have suggested one possible axis on which the two decision processes might be delineated. Fast decisions may be resolved primarily by parietal mechanisms, whereas decisions made without time pressure may rely on prefrontal mechanisms. Here, we report direct evidence for such dissociation. During decisions under time pressure, a value comparison process was evident in PPC, but not in vmPFC. Value-related activity was still found in vmPFC under time pressure. However, vmPFC represented overall input value rather than compared output value. In contrast, when decisions were made without time pressure, vmPFC transitioned to encode a value comparison while value-related parameters were entirely absent from PPC. Furthermore, under time pressure, decision performance was primarily governed by PPC, while it was dominated by vmPFC at longer decision times. These data demonstrate that parallel cortical mechanisms may resolve the same choices in differing circumstances, and offer an explanation of the diverse neural signals reported in vmPFC and PPC during value-guided choice.
    Preview · Article · Oct 2014 · NeuroImage
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    • "First, a large number of neuroimaging and lesion studies have identified the vmPFC as the most likely locus for reward value comparison (Levy and Glimcher, 2012; Rangel and Clithero, 2012; Rushworth et al., 2011). Second, lesions to vmPFC are associated with deficits in choices between similarly valued items, possibly leading to inconsistent choices and shifts in choice strategy (Camille et al., 2011; Fellows, 2006; Noonan et al., 2010; Walton et al., 2010). Third, activity in this area correlates with the difference between offered values, suggesting that it may implement a value comparison process (Boorman et al., 2013; FitzGerald et al., 2009; Philiastides et al., 2010). "
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    ABSTRACT: Recent theories suggest that reward-based choice reflects competition between value signals in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). We tested this idea by recording vmPFC neurons while macaques performed a gambling task with asynchronous offer presentation. We found that neuronal activity shows four patterns consistent with selection via mutual inhibition: (1) correlated tuning for probability and reward size, suggesting that vmPFC carries an integrated value signal; (2) anti-correlated tuning curves for the two options, suggesting mutual inhibition; (3) neurons rapidly come to signal the value of the chosen offer, suggesting the circuit serves to produce a choice; and (4) after regressing out the effects of option values, firing rates still could predict choice-a choice probability signal. In addition, neurons signaled gamble outcomes, suggesting that vmPFC contributes to both monitoring and choice processes. These data suggest a possible mechanism for reward-based choice and endorse the centrality of vmPFC in that process.
    Full-text · Article · May 2014 · Neuron
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