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J Neurosci. 2011 May 18;31(20):7527-32. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6527-10.2011.

Ventromedial frontal lobe damage disrupts value maximization in humans.

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Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, McGill University, Montreal Neurological Institute, Montreal, Quebec H3A 2B4, Canada.


Recent work in neuroeconomics has shown that regions in orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal cortex encode the subjective value of different options during choice. However, these electrophysiological and neuroimaging studies cannot demonstrate whether such signals are necessary for value-maximizing choices. Here we used a paradigm developed in experimental economics to empirically measure and quantify violations of utility theory in humans with damage to the ventromedial frontal lobe (VMF). We show that people with such damage are more likely to make choices that violate the generalized axiom of revealed preference, which is the one necessary and sufficient condition for choices to be consistent with value maximization. These results demonstrate that the VMF plays a critical role in value-maximizing choice.

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