Behavioral and Neural Substrates of Decision-Making Under Perceptual and Reward Uncertainty: The Role of Task Structure

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Virginia Tech

Real world decision-making requires simultaneously determining what we are observing in our environment (perceptual decision-making; PDM) and what the stimuli and actions are worth (reward-based decision-making; RDM). There is evidence of a bi-directional relationship between reward and perceptual information in guiding choice, with some studies suggesting that individuals optimally combine the two. Uncertainty in both reward expectations and perception have been shown to alter choice behavior, however few studies have manipulated both variables simultaneously. Given the distinct theoretical and computational foundations of PDM and RDM, it has also been assumed that the underlying behavioral and neural substrates of perceptual and reward-based choice are separable. However, there is evidence that task structure and subjective value/uncertainty more generally contribute to activity in large-scale networks of the brain, rather than domain specific features (perceptual salience/reward). Variability in task structures and methods of manipulating and modeling sensory and reward uncertainty, make it hard to draw definitive conclusions across these perspectives with currently available data. The current study used behavioral and fMRI techniques to investigate the neurobehavioral substrates of decision-making under simultaneous perceptual and reward uncertainty in a sample of healthy adult volunteers. The primary objectives of this project were to test: a) how simultaneous manipulations in sensory and reward uncertainty influence choice, b) whether task structure alters the influence of sensory and reward information on choice behavior, and c) whether activity in underlying neural substrates reflect domain-specific or domain-general processes. Results showed that choices were best predicted by a combined model of perceptual salience and reward, with an overall bias towards perceptual salience information. Choice percentage was not impacted by task structure, however choices were better predicted by individual features (salience and reward) when they were manipulated stably, than dynamically. Activity in the brain showed greater overlap between dynamic task conditions when compared to both salience and reward conditions. There was also greater overlap between stable task conditions when compared to reward but not salience conditions. Preliminary evidence suggests that activity in decision-relevant regions of the brain varied by uncertainty and value rather than salience and reward per se.

Reward, Perception, Decision Making, fMRI, Uncertainty