Qiang Wang, Shan Luo, John Monterosso, Jintao Zhang, Xiaoyi Fang, Qi Dong, and Gui Xue
The Journal of Neuroscience, 28 May 2014, 34(22):7522-7530;
The ability to resist current temptations in favor of long-term benefits is a critical human capacity. Despite the extensive studies on the neural mechanisms of intertemporal choices, how the subjective value of immediate and delayed rewards is represented and compared in the brain remains to be elucidated. The present fMRI study addressed this question by simultaneously and independently manipulating the magnitude of immediate and delayed rewards in an intertemporal decision task, combined with univariate analysis and multiple voxel pattern analysis. We found that activities in the posterior portion of the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (DmPFC) were modulated by the value of immediate options, whereas activities in the adjacent anterior DmPFC were modulated by the subjective value of delayed options. Brain signal change in the ventral mPFC was positively correlated with the “relative value” (the absolute difference of subjective value between two intertemporal alternatives). In contrast, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex activity was negatively correlated with the relative value. These results suggest that immediate and delayed rewards are separately represented in the dorsal mPFC and compared in the ventral mPFC to guide decisions. The functional dissociation of posterior and anterior DmPFC in representing immediate and delayed reward is consistent with the general structural and functional architecture of the prefrontal cortex and may provide a neural basis for human's unique capacity to delayed gratification.