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Behav Processes. 2003 Oct 31;64(3):239-250.

Role of the orbital prefrontal cortex in choice between delayed and uncertain reinforcers: a quantitative analysis.

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Psychopharmacology Section, Division of Psychiatry, University of Nottingham, Room B109, Medical School, Queen's Medical Centre, NG7 2UH, Nottingham, UK


'Inter-temporal choice' refers to choice between two or more outcomes that differ with respect to their sizes, delays, and/or probabilities of occurrence. According to the multiplicative hyperbolic model of inter-temporal choice, the value of a reinforcer increases as a hyperbolic function of its size, and decreases as a hyperbolic function of its delay and the odds against its occurrence. These functions, each of which contains a single discounting parameter, are assumed to combine multiplicatively to determine the overall value of the reinforcer. The model gives rise to a quantitative methodology for analysing inter-temporal choice, based on a family of linear null equations which describe performance under conditions of indifference, when the values of the reinforcers are assumed to be equal. This approach was used to examine the effect of lesions of the orbital prefrontal cortex (OPFC) on inter-temporal choice in rats. Under halothane anaesthesia, rats received injections of the excitotoxin quinolinate into the OPFC or sham lesions. They were trained to press two levers (A and B) for food-pellet reinforcers in discrete-trials schedules. In free-choice trials, a press on A resulted in delivery of a pellet after a delay d(A) with a probability P=0.5; a press on B resulted in delivery of a pellet with a probability P=1 after a delay d(B). d(B) was increased progressively across successive blocks of six trials in each session, while d(A) was manipulated systematically across phases of the experiment. The indifference delays, d(B(50)) (value of d(B) corresponding to 50% choice of B) was estimated for each rat in each phase. Linear functions of d(B(50)) versus d(A) were derived, and the parameters of the function compared between the groups. In both groups, d(B(50)) increased linearly with d(A). The slope of the linear function was significantly steeper in the lesioned group than in the sham-lesioned group, whereas the intercept did not differ significantly between the groups. Analysis based on the relevant null equation indicated that the lesion of the OPFC increased the rate of both delay and odds discounting. Possible implications of the results for interpreting the effects of OPFC lesions on inter-temporal choice behaviour in man are discussed.


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