The orbitofrontal cortex and reward

Cereb Cortex. 2000 Mar;10(3):284-94. doi: 10.1093/cercor/10.3.284.


The primate orbitofrontal cortex contains the secondary taste cortex, in which the reward value of taste is represented. It also contains the secondary and tertiary olfactory cortical areas, in which information about the identity and also about the reward value of odors is represented. The orbitofrontal cortex also receives information about the sight of objects and faces from the temporal lobe cortical visual areas, and neurons in it learn and reverse the visual stimulus to which they respond when the association of the visual stimulus with a primary reinforcing stimulus (such as a taste reward) is reversed. However, the orbitofrontal cortex is involved in representing negative reinforcers (punishers) too, such as aversive taste, and in rapid stimulus-reinforcement association learning for both positive and negative primary reinforcers. In complementary neuroimaging studies in humans it is being found that areas of the orbitofrontal cortex (and connected subgenual cingulate cortex) are activated by pleasant touch, by painful touch, by rewarding and aversive taste, and by odor. Damage to the orbitofrontal cortex in humans can impair the learning and reversal of stimulus- reinforcement associations, and thus the correction of behavioral responses when these are no longer appropriate because previous reinforcement contingencies change. This evidence thus shows that the orbitofrontal cortex is involved in decoding and representing some primary reinforcers such as taste and touch; in learning and reversing associations of visual and other stimuli to these primary reinforcers; and in controlling and correcting reward-related and punishment-related behavior, and thus in emotion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways
  • Animals
  • Frontal Lobe / cytology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Reward*