Cognitive regulation alters social and dietary choice by changing attribute representations in domain-general and domain-specific brain circuits

Elife. 2018 May 29;7:e31185. doi: 10.7554/eLife.31185.


Are some people generally more successful using cognitive regulation or does it depend on the choice domain? Why? We combined behavioral computational modeling and multivariate decoding of fMRI responses to identify neural loci of regulation-related shifts in value representations across goals and domains (dietary or altruistic choice). Surprisingly, regulatory goals did not alter integrative value representations in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which represented all choice-relevant attributes across goals and domains. Instead, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) flexibly encoded goal-consistent values and predicted regulatory success for the majority of choice-relevant attributes, using attribute-specific neural codes. We also identified domain-specific exceptions: goal-dependent encoding of prosocial attributes localized to precuneus and temporo-parietal junction (not DLPFC). Our results suggest that cognitive regulation operated by changing specific attribute representations (not integrated values). Evidence of domain-general and domain-specific neural loci reveals important divisions of labor, explaining when and why regulatory success generalizes (or doesn't) across contexts and domains.

Keywords: altruism; decision-making; dietary success; drift diffusion model; fMRI; human; multivariate pattern analysis; neuroscience; self-control; social cognition; value representations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Decision Making*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Reaction Time
  • Reward
  • Social Behavior