The road not taken: neural correlates of decision making in orbitofrontal cortex

Front Neurosci. 2012 Sep 11;6:131. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2012.00131. eCollection 2012.


Empirical research links human orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) to the evaluation of outcomes during decision making and the representation of alternative (better) outcomes after failures. When faced with a difficult decision, rats sometimes pause and turn back-and-forth toward goals, until finally orienting toward the chosen direction. Neural representations of reward in rodent OFC increased immediately following each reorientation, implying a transient representation of the expected outcome following self-initiated decisions. Upon reaching reward locations and finding no reward (having made an error), OFC representations of reward decreased locally indicating a disappointment signal that then switched to represent the unrewarded, non-local, would-have-been rewarded site. These results illustrate that following a decision to act, neural ensembles in OFC represent reward, and upon the realization of an error, represent the reward that could have been.

Keywords: counterfactual; covert representation of reward; multiple T; orbitofrontal cortex; regret; vicarious trial and error.