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J Neurosci. 2010 Jun 9;30(23):8032-41. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4729-09.2010.

Updating beliefs for a decision: neural correlates of uncertainty and underconfidence.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.


Some decisions are made after obtaining several pieces of information, whereas others are reached quickly. Such differences may depend on the quality of information acquired, as well as individual variability in how cautiously evidence is evaluated. The current study examined neural activity while subjects accumulated sequential pieces of evidence and then made a decision. Uncertainty was updated with each piece of evidence, with individual ratings of subjective uncertainty characterizing underconfidence when observing evidence. Increased uncertainty during evidence accumulation was associated with activity in dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater uncertainty when executing a decision uniquely elicited lateral frontal and parietal activity. Greater underconfidence when observing evidence correlated with activity in ventromedial prefrontal cortex. These results suggest that neural mechanisms of uncertainty depend on the stage of decision-making (belief updating vs decision) and that greater subjective uncertainty when evaluating evidence is associated with activity in ventromedial brain regions, even in the absence of overt risk.

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