Decision salience signals in posterior cingulate cortex

Front Neurosci. 2011 Apr 19:5:55. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2011.00055. eCollection 2011.


Despite its phylogenetic antiquity and clinical importance, the posterior cingulate cortex (CGp) remains an enigmatic nexus of attention, memory, motivation, and decision making. Here we show that CGp neurons track decision salience - the degree to which an option differs from a standard - but not the subjective value of a decision. To do this, we recorded the spiking activity of CGp neurons in monkeys choosing between options varying in reward-related risk, delay to reward, and social outcomes, each of which varied in level of decision salience. Firing rates were higher when monkeys chose the risky option, consistent with their risk-seeking preferences, but were also higher when monkeys chose the delayed and social options, contradicting their preferences. Thus, across decision contexts, neuronal activity was uncorrelated with how much monkeys valued a given option, as inferred from choice. Instead, neuronal activity signaled the deviation of the chosen option from the standard, independently of how it differed. The observed decision salience signals suggest a role for CGp in the flexible allocation of neural resources to motivationally significant information, akin to the role of attention in selective processing of sensory inputs.

Keywords: cingulate; decision making; discounting; motivation; reward; risk; salience.