Dorsal anterior cingulate and ventromedial prefrontal cortex have inverse roles in both foraging and economic choice

Amitai Shenhav, Mark A. Straccia, Matthew M. Botvinick, Jonathan D. Cohen

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Recent research has highlighted a distinction between sequential foraging choices and traditional economic choices between simultaneously presented options. This was partly motivated by observations in Kolling, Behrens, Mars, and Rushworth, Science, 336(6077), 95–98 (2012) (hereafter, KBMR) that these choice types are subserved by different circuits, with dorsal anterior cingulate (dACC) preferentially involved in foraging and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) preferentially involved in economic choice. To support this account, KBMR used fMRI to scan human subjects making either a foraging choice (between exploiting a current offer or swapping for potentially better rewards) or an economic choice (between two reward-probability pairs). This study found that dACC better tracked values pertaining to foraging, whereas vmPFC better tracked values pertaining to economic choice. We recently showed that dACC’s role in these foraging choices is better described by the difficulty of choosing than by foraging value, when correcting for choice biases and testing a sufficiently broad set of foraging values (Shenhav, Straccia, Cohen, & Botvinick Nature Neuroscience, 17(9), 1249–1254, 2014). Here, we extend these findings in 3 ways. First, we replicate our original finding with a larger sample and a task modified to address remaining methodological gaps between our previous experiments and that of KBMR. Second, we show that dACC activity is best accounted for by choice difficulty alone (rather than in combination with foraging value) during both foraging and economic choices. Third, we show that patterns of vmPFC activity, inverted relative to dACC, also suggest a common function across both choice types. Overall, we conclude that both regions are similarly engaged by foraging-like and economic choice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1127-1139
Number of pages13
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • cognitive control
  • decision-making
  • prefrontal cortex
  • reward


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