The neural basis of value accumulation in intertemporal choice

Eur J Neurosci. 2015 Sep;42(5):2179-89. doi: 10.1111/ejn.12997. Epub 2015 Aug 13.


Making intertemporal choices (choosing between rewards available at different points in time) requires determining and comparing the subjective values of available rewards. Several studies have found converging evidence identifying the neural systems that encode subjective value in intertemporal choice. However, the neural mechanisms responsible for the process that produces intertemporal decisions on the basis of subjective values have not been investigated. Using model-based and connectivity analyses of functional magnetic resonance imaging data, we investigated the neural mechanisms underlying the value-accumulation process by which subjective value guides intertemporal decisions. Our results show that the dorsomedial frontal cortex, bilateral posterior parietal cortex, and bilateral lateral prefrontal cortex are all involved in the accumulation of subjective value for the purpose of action selection. Our findings establish a mechanistic framework for understanding frontoparietal contributions to intertemporal choice and suggest that value-accumulation processes in the frontoparietal cortex may be a general mechanism for value-based choice.

Keywords: frontoparietal cortex; functional magnetic resonance imaging; intertemporal choice; linear ballistic accumulator model.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Delay Discounting / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Neurological
  • Models, Psychological
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychophysics
  • Reaction Time
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Young Adult