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J Neurosci. 2011 Sep 14;31(37):13214-23. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1246-11.2011.

The decision value computations in the vmPFC and striatum use a relative value code that is guided by visual attention.

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Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA.


There is a growing consensus in behavioral neuroscience that the brain makes simple choices by first assigning a value to the options under consideration and then comparing them. Two important open questions are whether the brain encodes absolute or relative value signals, and what role attention might play in these computations. We investigated these questions using a human fMRI experiment with a binary choice task in which the fixations to both stimuli were exogenously manipulated to control for the role of visual attention in the valuation computation. We found that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the ventral striatum encoded fixation-dependent relative value signals: activity in these areas correlated with the difference in value between the attended and the unattended items. These attention-modulated relative value signals might serve as the input of a comparator system that is used to make a choice.

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