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Cereb Cortex. 2009 May;19(5):1019-27. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhn147. Epub 2008 Oct 8.

Functional dissociations of risk and reward processing in the medial prefrontal cortex.

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Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-1061, USA.


Making a risky decision is a complex process that involves evaluation of both the value of the options and the associated risk level. Yet the neural processes underlying these processes have not so far been clearly identified. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and a task that simulates risky decisions, we found that the dorsal region of the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) was activated whenever a risky decision was made, but the degree of this activity across subjects was negatively correlated with their risk preference. In contrast, the ventral MPFC was parametrically modulated by the received gain/loss, and the activation in this region was positively correlated with an individual's risk preference. These results extend existing neurological evidence by showing that the dorsal and ventral MPFC convey different decision signals (i.e., aversion to uncertainty vs. approach to rewarding outcomes), where the relative strengths of these signals determine behavioral decisions involving risk and uncertainty.

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