Remarkable progress has been made in recent years toward understanding the functions of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). The finding that neurons in this area encode the subjective value monkeys assign to different goods while making choices has been confirmed and extended by numerous studies using both primate neurophysiology and human imaging. Moreover, new lesion studies demonstrated that subjective values computed in the OFC are causally and specifically related to choice behavior. Importantly, values in the OFC are attached to goods, not to actions or to spatial locations. Furthermore, subjective values appear to be computed in this area even if the situation does not require a choice. In the light of this growing body of work, we propose that the primary function of the OFC is the computation of good identities and subjective values in an abstract representation. In this view, OFC neurons compute the subjective value of a good whenever that good is behaviorally relevant.
© 2011 New York Academy of Sciences.