Neurobiology of economic choice: a good-based model

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2011:34:333-59. doi: 10.1146/annurev-neuro-061010-113648.


Traditionally the object of economic theory and experimental psychology, economic choice recently became a lively research focus in systems neuroscience. Here I summarize the emerging results and propose a unifying model of how economic choice might function at the neural level. Economic choice entails comparing options that vary on multiple dimensions. Hence, while choosing, individuals integrate different determinants into a subjective value; decisions are then made by comparing values. According to the good-based model, the values of different goods are computed independently of one another, which implies transitivity. Values are not learned as such, but rather computed at the time of choice. Most importantly, values are compared within the space of goods, independent of the sensorimotor contingencies of choice. Evidence from neurophysiology, imaging, and lesion studies indicates that abstract representations of value exist in the orbitofrontal and ventromedial prefrontal cortices. The computation and comparison of values may thus take place within these regions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Economic*
  • Neurobiology / economics*