Contributions of the prefrontal cortex to the neural basis of human decision making

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2002 Oct;26(6):631-64. doi: 10.1016/s0149-7634(02)00021-0.


The neural basis of decision making has been an elusive concept largely due to the many subprocesses associated with it. Recent efforts involving neuroimaging, neuropsychological studies, and animal work indicate that the prefrontal cortex plays a central role in several of these subprocesses. The frontal lobes are involved in tasks ranging from making binary choices to making multi-attribute decisions that require explicit deliberation and integration of diverse sources of information. In categorizing different aspects of decision making, a division of the prefrontal cortex into three primary regions is proposed. (1) The orbitofrontal and ventromedial areas are most relevant to deciding based on reward values and contribute affective information regarding decision attributes and options. (2) Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is critical in making decisions that call for the consideration of multiple sources of information, and may recruit separable areas when making well defined versus poorly defined decisions. (3) The anterior and ventral cingulate cortex appear especially relevant in sorting among conflicting options, as well as signaling outcome-relevant information. This topic is broadly relevant to cognitive neuroscience as a discipline, as it generally comprises several aspects of cognition and may involve numerous brain regions depending on the situation. The review concludes with a summary of how these regions may interact in deciding and possible future research directions for the field.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Animals
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reward
  • Risk