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Published May 15, 2013 | Published
Journal Article Open

Stimulus Value Signals in Ventromedial PFC Reflect the Integration of Attribute Value Signals Computed in Fusiform Gyrus and Posterior Superior Temporal Gyrus


We often have to make choices among multiattribute stimuli (e.g., a food that differs on its taste and health). Behavioral data suggest that choices are made by computing the value of the different attributes and then integrating them into an overall stimulus value signal. However, it is not known whether this theory describes the way the brain computes the stimulus value signals, or how the underlying computations might be implemented. We investigated these questions using a human fMRI task in which individuals had to evaluate T-shirts that varied in their visual esthetic (e.g., color) and semantic (e.g., meaning of logo printed in T-shirt) components. We found that activity in the fusiform gyrus, an area associated with the processing of visual features, correlated with the value of the visual esthetic attributes, but not with the value of the semantic attributes. In contrast, activity in posterior superior temporal gyrus, an area associated with the processing of semantic meaning, exhibited the opposite pattern. Furthermore, both areas exhibited functional connectivity with an area of ventromedial prefrontal cortex that reflects the computation of overall stimulus values at the time of decision. The results provide supporting evidence for the hypothesis that some attribute values are computed in cortical areas specialized in the processing of such features, and that those attribute-specific values are then passed to the vmPFC to be integrated into an overall stimulus value signal to guide the decision.

Additional Information

© 2013 The Authors. Received Oct. 10, 2012; revised March 27, 2013; accepted April 9, 2013. Author contributions: S.-L.L., J.P.O., and A.R. designed research; S.-L.L. performed research; S.-L.L., J.P.O., and A.R. analyzed data; S.-L.L., J.P.O., and A.R. wrote the paper. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (Grants SES-0851408, SES-0926544, and SES-0850840), National Institutes of Health (Grant R01 AA018736), the Betty and Gordon Moore Foundation, and the Lipper Foundation. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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