Neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex encode economic value

Camillo Padoa-Schioppa, John A. Assad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1124 Scopus citations


Economic choice is the behaviour observed when individuals select one among many available options. There is no intrinsically 'correct' answer: economic choice depends on subjective preferences. This behaviour is traditionally the object of economic analysis1 and is also of primary interest in psychology2. However, the underlying mental processes and neuronal mechanisms are not well understood. Theories of human and animal choice 1-3 have a cornerstone in the concept of 'value'. Consider, for example, a monkey offered one raisin versus one piece of apple: behavioural evidence suggests that the animal chooses by assigning values to the two options4. But where and how values are represented in the brain is unclear. Here we show that, during economic choice, neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex5-18 (OFC) encode the value of offered and chosen goods. Notably, OFC neurons encode value independently of visuospatial factors and motor responses. If a monkey chooses between A and B, neurons in the OFC encode the value of the two goods independently of whether A is presented on the right and B on the left, or vice versa. This trait distinguishes the OFC from other brain areas in which value modulates activity related to sensory or motor processes19-25. Our results have broad implications for possible psychological models, suggesting that economic choice is essentially choice between goods rather than choice between actions. In this framework, neurons in the OFC seem to be a good candidate network for value assignment underlying economic choice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-226
Number of pages4
Issue number7090
StatePublished - May 11 2006


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