Using fMRI to Study Valuation and Choice
Montague, P. Read
Harvey, Ann H.
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The ability to make decisions relies on brain mechanisms designed to value our environment and elicit appropriate actions based on those values. These mechanisms allow an agent to predict the value of a potential action both immediately and into the future, and then execute the chosen action. Because the ability to find food or choose a mate directly impacts the survival of a species, it is easy to see how these goal-seeking behaviors would acquire reward value in the brain. But what is the internal value of a piece of art, a label on a bottle, an idea, or a social gesture by another person? Humans use resources (both energy and money) to acquire these types of abstract rewards, and they affect decision-making behavior in a manner similar to primary rewards such as food, water, and sex. In fact, abstract rewards can be powerful motivators: pursuit of these rewards can even cause humans to forego basic needs to acquire them. In this chapter we review experiments in the field of neuroimaging that explore how value is constructed in the human brain across a variety of domains. We then focus on a series of experiments conducted to probe the brain responses underlying preference decisions for art, and how these preferences can be altered by external variables in the environment. These experiments combine neuroscience, psychology, and economics to probe the underlying neurobiology of valuation and choice behavior in humans.