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Brain Connect. 2014 Apr;4(3):193-202. doi: 10.1089/brain.2013.0184. Epub 2014 Apr 4.

Age-related differences in advantageous decision making are associated with distinct differences in functional community structure.

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1 Laboratory for Complex Brain Networks, Wake Forest University School of Medicine , Winston-Salem, North Carolina.


Human decision making is dependent on not only the function of several brain regions but also their synergistic interaction. The specific function of brain areas within the ventromedial prefrontal cortex has long been studied in an effort to understand choice evaluation and decision making. These data specifically focus on whole-brain functional interconnectivity using the principles of network science. The Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) was the first neuropsychological task used to model real-life decisions in a way that factors reward, punishment, and uncertainty. Clinically, it has been used to detect decision-making impairments characteristic of patients with prefrontal cortex lesions. Here, we used performance on repeated blocks of the IGT as a behavioral measure of advantageous and disadvantageous decision making in young and mature adults. Both adult groups performed poorly by predominately making disadvantageous selections in the beginning stages of the task. In later phases of the task, young adults shifted to more advantageous selections and outperformed mature adults. Modularity analysis revealed stark underlying differences in visual, sensorimotor and medial prefrontal cortex community structure. In addition, changes in orbitofrontal cortex connectivity predicted behavioral deficits in IGT performance. Contrasts were driven by a difference in age but may also prove relevant to neuropsychiatric disorders associated with poor decision making, including the vulnerability to alcohol and/or drug addiction.

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