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Neuron. 2009 May 28;62(4):593-602. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.04.007.

Separate neural mechanisms underlie choices and strategic preferences in risky decision making.

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Brain Imaging and Analysis Center, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


Adaptive decision making in real-world contexts often relies on strategic simplifications of decision problems. Yet, the neural mechanisms that shape these strategies and their implementation remain largely unknown. Using an economic decision-making task, we dissociate brain regions that predict specific choices from those predicting an individual's preferred strategy. Choices that maximized gains or minimized losses were predicted by functional magnetic resonance imaging activation in ventromedial prefrontal cortex or anterior insula, respectively. However, choices that followed a simplifying strategy (i.e., attending to overall probability of winning) were associated with activation in parietal and lateral prefrontal cortices. Dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, through differential functional connectivity with parietal and insular cortex, predicted individual variability in strategic preferences. Finally, we demonstrate that robust decision strategies follow from neural sensitivity to rewards. We conclude that decision making reflects more than compensatory interaction of choice-related regions; in addition, specific brain systems potentiate choices depending on strategies, traits, and context.

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