Neural representation of expected value
Psychologists and economists have argued that people must assess expected value in order to decide on their next course of action. Recent advances in neuroimaging make it possible to visualize anticipatory changes in activity deep in the living human brain. I will review original functional magnetic resonance imaging research suggesting that a region of the subcortex (the nucleus accumbens, or NAcc) plays an important role in anticipation of financial gains. I will then describe additional findings related to financial decision making, in which NAcc activation precedes risk-taking, while activation in a distinct brain region precedes risk-avoidance. I’ll conclude by discussing implications of this research for neurally constrained theories of decision making and the rational actor model.
Brian Knutson is an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Stanford University. His research focuses on the neural basis of emotional experience and expression. He investigates this topic with a number of methods including self-report, measurement of nonverbal behavior, comparative ethology, psychopharmacology, and functional brain imaging.
His long-term goal is to understand the neurochemical and neuroanatomical mechanisms responsible for emotional experience and to explore the implications of these findings for the assessment and treatment of clinical disorders of affect and addiction, as well as economic behavior.
Knutson has received Young Investigator Awards from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, the Association for Behavioral Medicine Research, the American Psychiatric Association, and the New York Academy of Science. He received BA degrees in experimental psychology and comparative religion from Trinity University, a PhD in experimental psychology from Stanford, and has conducted postdoctoral research in affective neuroscience at UC-San Francisco and at the National Institutes of Health.
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