Abstract reward and punishment representations in the human orbitofrontal cortex

Nat Neurosci. 2001 Jan;4(1):95-102. doi: 10.1038/82959.


The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is implicated in emotion and emotion-related learning. Using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we measured brain activation in human subjects doing an emotion-related visual reversal-learning task in which choice of the correct stimulus led to a probabilistically determined 'monetary' reward and choice of the incorrect stimulus led to a monetary loss. Distinct areas of the OFC were activated by monetary rewards and punishments. Moreover, in these areas, we found a correlation between the magnitude of the brain activation and the magnitude of the rewards and punishments received. These findings indicate that one emotional involvement of the human orbitofrontal cortex is its representation of the magnitudes of abstract rewards and punishments, such as receiving or losing money.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Gambling
  • Gyrus Cinguli / anatomy & histology
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Punishment*
  • Reversal Learning / physiology
  • Reward*