Infoscience

Journal article

Encoding of Marginal Utility across Time in the Human Brain

Marginal utility theory prescribes the relationship between the objective property of the magnitude of rewards and their subjective value. Despite its pervasive influence, however, there is remarkably little direct empirical evidence for such a theory of value, let alone of its neurobiological basis. We show that human preferences in an intertemporal choice task are best described by a model that integrates marginally diminishing utility with temporal discounting. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we show that activity in the dorsal striatum encodes both the marginal utility of rewards, over and above that which can be described by their magnitude alone, and the discounting associated with increasing time. In addition, our data show that dorsal striatum may be involved in integrating subjective valuation systems inherent to time and magnitude, thereby providing an overall metric of value used to guide choice behavior. Furthermore, during choice, we show that anterior cingulate activity correlates with the degree of difficulty associated with dissonance between value and time. Our data support an integrative architecture for decision making, revealing the neural representation of distinct sub-components of value that may contribute to impulsivity and decisiveness.

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