Zangemeister L, Grabenhorst F, Schultz W.
Curr Biol. 2016 Nov 21;26(22):3004-3013.
Economic saving is an elaborate behavior in which the goal of a reward in the future directs planning and decision-making in the present. Here, we measured neural activity while subjects formed simple economic saving strategies to accumulate rewards and then executed their strategies through choice sequences of self-defined lengths. Before the initiation of a choice sequence, prospective activations in the amygdala predicted subjects' internal saving plans and their value up to two minutes before a saving goal was achieved. The valuation component of this planning activity persisted during execution of the saving strategy and predicted subjects' economic behavior across different tasks and testing days. Functionally coupled amygdala and prefrontal cortex activities encoded distinct planning components that signaled the transition from saving strategy formation to execution and reflected individual differences in saving behavior. Our findings identify candidate neural mechanisms for economic saving in amygdala and prefrontal cortex and suggest a novel planning function for the human amygdala in directing strategic behavior toward self-determined future rewards.