How do humans make choices between different types of rewards? Economists have long argued on theoretical grounds that humans typically make these choices as if the values of the options they consider have been mapped to a single common scale for comparison. Neuroimaging studies in humans have recently begun to suggest the existence of a small group of specific brain sites that appear to encode the subjective values of different types of rewards on a neural common scale, almost exactly as predicted by theory. We have conducted a meta analysis using data from thirteen different functional magnetic resonance imaging studies published in recent years and we show that the principle brain area associated with this common representation is a subregion of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC)/orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). The data available today suggest that this common valuation path is a core system that participates in day-to-day decision making suggesting both a neurobiological foundation for standard economic theory and a tool for measuring preferences neurobiologically. Perhaps even more exciting is the possibility that our emerging understanding of the neural mechanisms for valuation and choice may provide fundamental insights into pathological choice behaviors like addiction, obesity and gambling.
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