You Can't Always Get What You Want

in News
October 25th, 2011


According to a recent study, there are at least two neural correlates for decision-making in the brain.

If you’re the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz who yearns for a brain, you have neither of these correlates. However, if you are someone who has frontal lobe damage to the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), you have one functional neural correlate: for action value comparisons. You can make optimal decisions about how to get a brain (…although you obviously would already have one). Alternatively, you could have suffered damage to the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) - in which case you would be able to make stimulus value comparisons and choose which objects are optimal, such as the wittiest or the most creative brain, but not how to get the chosen object.

These findings on stimulus and action value comparisons came from the study conducted by Camille et al. at McGill University. The authors tested human subjects with frontal lobe damage to either the OFC or dACC compared to controls. The behavioral tests were computerized value-driven learning tasks that were given on two different occasions. By comparing the overlap of lesions from the brain scans of patients, they suggested that damage in certain areas either altered stimulus or action value comparisons, both of which have been known to be important in the decision-making process.

Dr. Lesley Fellows, a neurologist and research scientist at The Neuro – or the Montréal Neurological Institute and Hospital, was the principal investigator. She says, “The surprising and novel finding is that in fact these two mechanisms of choice are independent of one another. There are distinct processes in the brain by which value information guides decisions, depending on whether the choice is between objects or between actions… This finding gives me more insight into what is happening in the brain of my patients, and may lead to new treatments and new ways to care for them and manage their symptoms.”

Certainly understanding more about the decision-making process in terms of the neural correlates is important in creating and deciding on treatments for patients, as well as providing more information, coping strategies, therapy, and better care to those who suffer brain damage affecting their decision-making abilities. Not only that, but this understanding also provides a clearer perspective on frontal lobe dysfunction and other disorders that may include symptoms like indecision or risky behavior.

Decision-Making: What You Want Vs. How You Get It – Science Daily

Double Dissociation of Stimulus-Value and Action-Value Learning in Humans With Orbitofrontal or Anterior Cingulate Cortex Damage – Nathalie Camille et al.

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