Economic value biases uncertain perceptual choices in the parietal and prefrontal cortices.
Summerfield C., Koechlin E.
An observer detecting a noisy sensory signal is biased by the costs and benefits associated with its presence or absence. When these costs and benefits are asymmetric, sensory, and economic information must be integrated to inform the final choice. However, it remains unknown how this information is combined at the neural or computational levels. To address this question, we asked healthy human observers to judge the presence or absence of a noisy sensory signal under economic conditions that favored yes responses (liberal blocks), no responses (conservative blocks), or neither response (neutral blocks). Economic information biased fast choices more than slow choices, suggesting that value and sensory information are integrated early in the decision epoch. More formal simulation analyses using an Ornstein-Uhlenbeck process demonstrated that the influence of economic information was best captured by shifting the origin of evidence accumulation toward the more valuable bound. We then used the computational model to generate trial-by-trial estimates of decision-related evidence that were based on combined sensory and economic information (the decision variable or DV), and regressed these against fMRI activity recorded whilst participants performed the task. Extrastriate visual regions responded to the level of sensory input (momentary evidence), but fMRI signals in the parietal and prefrontal cortices responded to the decision variable. These findings support recent single-neuron data suggesting that economic information biases decision-related signals in higher cortical regions.