Francesco Rigoli, Karl J. Friston & Raymond J. Dolan
Nature Communications 7, Article number: 12416 (2016) doi:10.1038/ncomms12416
Contextual influences on choice are ubiquitous in ecological settings. Current evidence suggests that subjective values are normalized with respect to the distribution of potentially available rewards. However, how this context-sensitivity is realised in the brain remains unknown. To address this, here we examine functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data during performance of a gambling task where blocks comprise values drawn from one of two different, but partially overlapping, reward distributions or contexts. At the beginning of each block (when information about context is provided), hippocampus is activated and this response is enhanced when contextual influence on choice increases. In addition, response to value in ventral tegmental area/substantia nigra (VTA/SN) shows context-sensitivity, an effect enhanced with an increased contextual influence on choice. Finally, greater response in hippocampus at block start is associated with enhanced context sensitivity in VTA/SN. These findings suggest that context-sensitive choice is driven by a brain circuit involving hippocampus and dopaminergic midbrain.