Encoding reward information in the pre-frontal cortex

Science Daily reports on research by Lee et. al. of Yale University:

Good things may come to those who wait, but research has proven that humans and animals actually prefer an immediate rather than a delayed reward. Now, a study published in the July 10 issue of the journal Neuron reveals how a decision-making region of the brain encodes information associated with the magnitude and delay of rewards.

The preference for immediate reward is called temporal discounting, and the value of reward depreciated according to its delay is referred to as temporally discounted value. Previous animal studies aimed at studying the neural signals associated with the impact of reward magnitude and delay on choice behavior have been difficult to interpret. “Despite the fundamental role of time in decision making, how the brain encodes the temporally discounted values to guide the animal’s choice during intertemporal choice remains poorly understood,” says lead author Dr. Daeyeol Lee from Yale University School of Medicine.

Dr. Lee and colleagues examined whether the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), a part of the brain implicated in decision making and contextual control of behaviors, is involved in temporal discounting and intertemporal choice. The researchers studied the brains and behaviors of animals trained in an intertemporal choice task where reward delays were indicated by clocks. Importantly, the positions of targets associated with small or large rewards and their corresponding delays were randomly varied.

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