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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2018 May 1;13(5):449-459. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsy021.

Subjective value representations during effort, probability and time discounting across adulthood.

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Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development & Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA.
Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA.
Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37240, USA.
Haas School of Business, University of California-Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience & Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA.


Every day, humans make countless decisions that require the integration of information about potential benefits (i.e. rewards) with other decision features (i.e. effort required, probability of an outcome or time delays). Here, we examine the overlap and dissociation of behavioral preferences and neural representations of subjective value in the context of three different decision features (physical effort, probability and time delays) in a healthy adult life span sample. While undergoing functional neuroimaging, participants (N = 75) made incentive compatible choices between a smaller monetary reward with lower physical effort, higher probability, or a shorter time delay versus a larger monetary reward with higher physical effort, lower probability, or a longer time delay. Behavioral preferences were estimated from observed choices, and subjective values were computed using individual hyperbolic discount functions. We found that discount rates were uncorrelated across tasks. Despite this apparent behavioral dissociation between preferences, we found overlapping subjective value-related activity in the medial prefrontal cortex across all three tasks. We found no consistent evidence for age differences in either preferences or the neural representations of subjective value across adulthood. These results suggest that while the tolerance of decision features is behaviorally dissociable, subjective value signals share a common representation across adulthood.

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