Orbitofrontal cortex and the computation of economic value

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2007 Dec:1121:232-53. doi: 10.1196/annals.1401.011. Epub 2007 Aug 14.


Economic choice is the behavior observed when individuals select one of many available options solely based on subjective preferences. Behavioral evidence suggests that economic choice entails two mental processes: values are first assigned to the available options, and a decision is subsequently made between these values. Numerous reports show that lesions to the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) lead to choice deficits in various domains, and imaging studies indicate that the OFC activates when people make choices. In this chapter, we review evidence from single cell recordings linking the OFC more specifically to valuation. Individual neurons in the OFC encode the value that monkeys assign to different beverages when they choose between them. These neurons encode economic value as a subjective quantity. Most importantly, neurons in the OFC encode economic value per se, not as a modulation of sensory or motor processes. This trait distinguishes the value representation in the OFC from that observed in other brain areas. That OFC neurons encode economic value independently of visuomotor contingencies suggests that economic choice is fundamentally a choice between goods (good-based model) rather than a choice between actions (action-based model).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Beverages / economics*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Processes
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology