A neuro-computational model of economic decisions

J Neurophysiol. 2015 Sep;114(3):1382-98. doi: 10.1152/jn.00184.2015. Epub 2015 Jun 10.


Neuronal recordings and lesion studies indicate that key aspects of economic decisions take place in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Previous work identified in this area three groups of neurons encoding the offer value, the chosen value, and the identity of the chosen good. An important and open question is whether and how decisions could emerge from a neural circuit formed by these three populations. Here we adapted a biophysically realistic neural network previously proposed for perceptual decisions (Wang XJ. Neuron 36: 955-968, 2002; Wong KF, Wang XJ. J Neurosci 26: 1314-1328, 2006). The domain of economic decisions is significantly broader than that for which the model was originally designed, yet the model performed remarkably well. The input and output nodes of the network were naturally mapped onto two groups of cells in OFC. Surprisingly, the activity of interneurons in the network closely resembled that of the third group of cells, namely, chosen value cells. The model reproduced several phenomena related to the neuronal origins of choice variability. It also generated testable predictions on the excitatory/inhibitory nature of different neuronal populations and on their connectivity. Some aspects of the empirical data were not reproduced, but simple extensions of the model could overcome these limitations. These results render a biologically credible model for the neuronal mechanisms of economic decisions. They demonstrate that choices could emerge from the activity of cells in the OFC, suggesting that chosen value cells directly participate in the decision process. Importantly, Wang's model provides a platform to investigate the implications of neuroscience results for economic theory.

Keywords: dynamic system; good-based decisions; neural network; neuroeconomics; orbitofrontal cortex.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Decision Making*
  • Economics, Behavioral
  • Humans
  • Models, Economic*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neurons / classification
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*