Inactivation of Medial Frontal Cortex Changes Risk Preference

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Abstract

Humans and other animals need to make decisions under varying degrees of uncertainty. These decisions are strongly influenced by an individual's risk preference; however, the neuronal circuitry by which risk preference shapes choice is still unclear [1]. Supplementary eye field (SEF), an oculomotor area within primate medial frontal cortex, is thought to be an essential part of the neuronal circuit underlying oculomotor decision making, including decisions under risk [2–5]. Consistent with this view, risk-related action value and monitoring signals have been observed in SEF [6–8]. However, such activity has also been observed in other frontal areas, including orbitofrontal [9–11], cingulate [12–14], and dorsal-lateral frontal cortex [15]. It is thus unknown whether the activity in SEF causally contributes to risky decisions, or whether it is merely a reflection of neural processes in other cortical regions. Here, we tested a causal role of SEF in risky oculomotor choices. We found that SEF inactivation strongly reduced the frequency of risky choices. This reduction was largely due to a reduced attraction to reward uncertainty and high reward gain, but not due to changes in the subjective estimation of reward probability or average expected reward. Moreover, SEF inactivation also led to increased sensitivity to differences between expected and actual reward during free choice. Nevertheless, it did not affect adjustments of decisions based on reward history. Chen and Stuphorn report a causal role of medial frontal cortex in regulating risky and impulsive behavior in risky decisions. These findings provide new insight into the neuronal circuits underlying inconsistent, context-dependent choices under risk observed across humans and non-human primates.

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Chen, X., & Stuphorn, V. (2018). Inactivation of Medial Frontal Cortex Changes Risk Preference. Current Biology, 28(19), 3114-3122.e4. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2018.07.043

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