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Neuroimage. 2013 Jan 15;65:223-30. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.08.063. Epub 2012 Aug 30.

The temporal derivative of expected utility: a neural mechanism for dynamic decision-making.

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Department of Psychology, Columbia University, Medical Center, New York, NY 10032, USA.


Real world tasks involving moving targets, such as driving a vehicle, are performed based on continuous decisions thought to depend upon the temporal derivative of the expected utility (∂V/∂t), where the expected utility (V) is the effective value of a future reward. However, the neural mechanisms that underlie dynamic decision-making are not well understood. This study investigates human neural correlates of both V and ∂V/∂t using fMRI and a novel experimental paradigm based on a pursuit-evasion game optimized to isolate components of dynamic decision processes. Our behavioral data show that players of the pursuit-evasion game adopt an exponential discounting function, supporting the expected utility theory. The continuous functions of V and ∂V/∂t were derived from the behavioral data and applied as regressors in fMRI analysis, enabling temporal resolution that exceeded the sampling rate of image acquisition, hyper-temporal resolution, by taking advantage of numerous trials that provide rich and independent manipulation of those variables. V and ∂V/∂t were each associated with distinct neural activity. Specifically, ∂V/∂t was associated with anterior and posterior cingulate cortices, superior parietal lobule, and ventral pallidum, whereas V was primarily associated with supplementary motor, pre and post central gyri, cerebellum, and thalamus. The association between the ∂V/∂t and brain regions previously related to decision-making is consistent with the primary role of the temporal derivative of expected utility in dynamic decision-making.

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