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AbstractThe neural mechanisms mediating sensory-guided decision making have received considerable attention but animals often pursue behaviors for which there is currently no sensory evidence. Such behaviors are guided by internal representations of choice values that have to be maintained even when these choices are unavailable. We investigated how four macaque monkeys maintained representations of the value of counterfactual choices – choices that could not be taken at the current moment but which could be taken in the future. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we found two different patterns of activity co-varying with values of counterfactual choices in a circuit spanning hippocampus, anterior lateral prefrontal cortex, and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). ACC activity also reflected whether the internal value representations would be translated into actual behavioral change. To establish the causal importance of ACC for this translation process, we used a novel technique, Transcranial Focused Ultrasound Stimulation, to reversibly disrupt ACC activity.

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