Economic choices between goods are thought to rely on the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), but the decision mechanisms remain poorly understood. To shed light on this fundamental issue, we recorded from the OFC of monkeys choosing between two juices offered sequentially. An analysis of firing rates across time windows revealed the presence of different groups of neurons similar to those previously identified under simultaneous offers. This observation suggested that economic decisions in the two modalities are formed in the same neural circuit. We then examined several hypotheses on the decision mechanisms. OFC neurons encoded good identities and values in a juice-based representation (labeled lines). Contrary to previous assessments, our data argued against the idea that decisions rely on mutual inhibition at the level of offer values. In fact, we showed that previous arguments for mutual inhibition were confounded by differences in value ranges. Instead, decisions seemed to involve mechanisms of circuit inhibition, whereby each offer value indirectly inhibited neurons encoding the opposite choice outcome. Our results reconcile a variety of previous findings and provide a general account for the neuronal underpinnings of economic choices.
Keywords: attention; decision making; good-based model; monkey; mutual inhibition; neuroeconomics; neurophysiology; orbitofrontal cortex; sequential offers; subjective value.
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