Action-specific value signals in reward-related regions of the human brain

Thomas H B FitzGerald, Karl J Friston, Raymond J Dolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


Estimating the value of potential actions is crucial for learning and adaptive behavior. We know little about how the human brain represents action-specific value outside of motor areas. This is, in part, due to a difficulty in detecting the neural correlates of value using conventional (region of interest) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analyses, due to a potential distributed representation of value. We address this limitation by applying a recently developed multivariate decoding method to high-resolution fMRI data in subjects performing an instrumental learning task. We found evidence for action-specific value signals in circumscribed regions, specifically ventromedial prefrontal cortex, putamen, thalamus, and insula cortex. In contrast, action-independent value signals were more widely represented across a large set of brain areas. Using multivariate Bayesian model comparison, we formally tested whether value-specific responses are spatially distributed or coherent. We found strong evidence that both action-specific and action-independent value signals are represented in a distributed fashion. Our results suggest that a surprisingly large number of classical reward-related areas contain distributed representations of action-specific values, representations that are likely to mediate between reward and adaptive behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16417-23a
JournalThe Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number46
Publication statusPublished - 14 Nov 2012


  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Behavior
  • Brain
  • Cues
  • Feedback, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Learning
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Neostriatum
  • Prefrontal Cortex
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Reward
  • Young Adult

Cite this