Separating value from choice: Delay discounting activity in the lateral intraparietal area

Kenway Louie, Paul W. Glimcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The mathematical formulations used to study the neurophysiological signals governing choice behavior fall under one of two major theoretical frameworks: "choice probability" or "subjective value." These two formulations represent behavioral quantities closely tied to the decision process, but it is unknown whether one of these variables, or both, dominates the neural mechanisms that mediate choice. Value and choice probability are difficult to distinguish in practice, because higher-valued options are chosen more frequently in free-choice tasks. This distinction is particularly relevant for sensorimotor areas such as parietal cortex, where both value information and motor signals related to choice have been observed. We recorded the activity of neurons in the lateral intraparietal area while monkeys performed an intertemporal choice task for rewards differing in delay to reinforcement. Here we show that the activity of parietal neurons is precisely correlated with the individual-specific discounted value of delayed rewards, with peak subjective value modulation occurring early in task trials. In contrast, late in the decision process these same neurons transition to encode the selected action. When directly compared, the strong delay-related modulation early during decision making is driven by subjective value rather than the monkey's probability of choice. These findings show that in addition to information about gains, parietal cortex also incorporates information about delay into a precise physiological correlate of economic value functions, independent of the probability of choice. Copyright

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5498-5507
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number16
StatePublished - Apr 21 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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