Medial Prefrontal Cortex: Adding Value to Imagined Scenarios

J Cogn Neurosci. 2015 Oct;27(10):1957-67. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00836. Epub 2015 Jun 4.


The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is consistently implicated in the network supporting autobiographical memory. Whereas more posterior regions in this network have been related to specific processes, such as the generation of visuospatial imagery or the association of items and contexts, the functional contribution of the mPFC remains unclear. However, the involvement of mPFC in estimation of value during decision-making suggests that it might play a similar role in memory. We investigated whether mPFC activity reflects the subjective value of elements in imagined scenarios. Participants in an MRI scanner imagined scenarios comprising a spatial context, a physiological state of need (e.g., thirst), and two items that could be congruent (e.g., drink) or incongruent (e.g., food) with the state of need. Memory for the scenarios was tested outside the scanner. Our manipulation of subjective value by imagined need was verified by increased subjective ratings of value for congruent items and improved subsequent memory for them. Consistent with our hypothesis, fMRI signal in mPFC reflected the modulation of an item's subjective value by the imagined physiological state, suggesting the mPFC selectively tracked subjective value within our imagination paradigm. Further analyses showed uncorrected effects in non-mPFC regions, including increased activity in the insula when imagining states of need, the caudate nucleus when imagining congruent items, and the anterior hippocampus/amygdala when imagining subsequently remembered items. We therefore provide evidence that the mPFC plays a role in constructing the subjective value of the components of imagined scenarios and thus potentially in reconstructing the value of components of autobiographical recollection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Motivation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Young Adult