A common neural scale for the subjective pleasantness of different primary rewards.
Grabenhorst F., D'Souza AA., Parris BA., Rolls ET., Passingham RE.
When an economic decision is taken, it is between goals with different values, and the values must be on the same scale. Here, we used functional MRI to search for a brain region that represents the subjective pleasantness of two different rewards on the same neural scale. We found activity in the ventral prefrontal cortex that correlated with the subjective pleasantness of two fundamentally different rewards, taste in the mouth and warmth on the hand. The evidence came from two different investigations, a between-group comparison of two independent fMRI studies, and from a within-subject study. In the latter, we showed that neural activity in the same voxels in the ventral prefrontal cortex correlated with the subjective pleasantness of the different rewards. Moreover, the slope and intercept for the regression lines describing the relationship between activations and subjective pleasantness were highly similar for the different rewards. We also provide evidence that the activations did not simply represent multisensory integration or the salience of the rewards. The findings demonstrate the existence of a specific region in the human brain where neural activity scales with the subjective pleasantness of qualitatively different primary rewards. This suggests a principle of brain processing of importance in reward valuation and decision-making.