Laurence T. Hunt, Mark W. Woolrich, Matthew F. S. Rushworth, Timothy E. J. Behrens
PLoS Comput Biol 9(9): e1003225.
A central question in cognitive neuroscience regards the means by which options are compared and decisions are resolved during value-guided choice. It is clear that several component processes are needed; these include identifying options, a value-based comparison, and implementation of actions to execute the decision. What is less clear is the temporal precedence and functional organisation of these component processes in the brain. Competing models of decision making have proposed that value comparison may occur in the space of alternative actions, or in the space of abstract goods. We hypothesized that the signals observed might in fact depend upon the framing of the decision. We recorded magnetoencephalographic data from humans performing value-guided choices in which two closely related trial types were interleaved. In the first trial type, each option was revealed separately, potentially causing subjects to estimate each action's value as it was revealed and perform comparison in action-space. In the second trial type, both options were presented simultaneously, potentially leading to comparison in abstract goods-space prior to commitment to a specific action. Distinct activity patterns (in distinct brain regions) on the two trial types demonstrated that the observed frame of reference used for decision making indeed differed, despite the information presented being formally identical, between the two trial types. This provides a potential reconciliation of conflicting accounts of value-guided choice.