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Published December 9, 2005 | Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Neural Systems Responding to Degrees of Uncertainty in Human Decision-Making


Much is known about how people make decisions under varying levels of probability (risk). Less is known about the neural basis of decision-making when probabilities are uncertain because of missing information (ambiguity). In decision theory, ambiguity about probabilities should not affect choices. Using functional brain imaging, we show that the level of ambiguity in choices correlates positively with activation in the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex, and negatively with a striatal system. Moreover, striatal activity correlates positively with expected reward. Neurological subjects with orbitofrontal lesions were insensitive to the level of ambiguity and risk in behavioral choices. These data suggest a general neural circuit responding to degrees of uncertainty, contrary to decision theory.

Additional Information

© 2005 American Association for the Advancement of Science. Received 26 May 2005; accepted 20 October 2005. We thank K. Scheer and M. Koenigs for data collection, and P. Bossaerts and S. Quartz for valuable input in the planning stages of this work. Supported by NSF grant SES 0433010 (C.C. and R.A.), the MacArthur Foundation Preferences Network (C.C.), Caltech grant CFC.PROVOST-3-GRANT (C.C.), NIH grants R01 MH067681 (R.A.) and P01 NS19632 (D.T.), and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

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