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Explicit neural signals reflecting reward uncertainty

Schultz, Wolfram and Preuschoff, Kerstin and Camerer, Colin and Hsu, Ming and Fiorillo, Christopher D. and Tobler, Phillippe N. and Bossaerts, Peter (2008) Explicit neural signals reflecting reward uncertainty. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 363 (1511). pp. 3801-3811. ISSN 0962-8436. PMCID PMC2581779. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0152.

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The acknowledged importance of uncertainty in economic decision making has stimulated the search for neural signals that could influence learning and inform decision mechanisms. Current views distinguish two forms of uncertainty, namely risk and ambiguity, depending on whether the probability distributions of outcomes are known or unknown. Behavioural neurophysiological studies on dopamine neurons revealed a risk signal, which covaried with the standard deviation or variance of the magnitude of juice rewards and occurred separately from reward value coding. Human imaging studies identified similarly distinct risk signals for monetary rewards in the striatum and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), thus fulfilling a requirement for the mean variance approach of economic decision theory. The orbitofrontal risk signal covaried with individual risk attitudes, possibly explaining individual differences in risk perception and risky decision making. Ambiguous gambles with incomplete probabilistic information induced stronger brain signals than risky gambles in OFC and amygdala, suggesting that the brain’s reward system signals the partial lack of information. The brain can use the uncertainty signals to assess the uncertainty of rewards, influence learning, modulate the value of uncertain rewards and make appropriate behavioural choices between only partly known options.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription CentralArticle
Camerer, Colin0000-0003-4049-1871
Bossaerts, Peter0000-0003-2308-2603
Additional Information:© 2008 The Royal Society. Published online 1 October 2008. We thank Dr. Scott Huettel and Dr. Ben Seymour for their helpful comments. Our work was supported by the Wellcome Trust, NSF (USA), NIH (USA), Swiss NSF, Human Frontiers Science Program, Moore Foundation and several other grant and fellowship agencies.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)UNSPECIFIED
Human Frontier Science ProgramUNSPECIFIED
Gordon and Betty Moore FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:probability; risk; ambiguity; dopamine; striatum; orbitofrontal cortex
Issue or Number:1511
PubMed Central ID:PMC2581779
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:SCHUptrslb08
Persistent URL:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:13636
Deposited On:16 Jun 2009 18:33
Last Modified:08 Nov 2021 22:39

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