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Keywords:

  • fMRI;
  • decision-making;
  • intertemporal choice;
  • temporal discounting;
  • reward;
  • impulsivity;
  • individual-differences

Abstract

Making choices between payoffs available at different points in time reliably engages a decision-making brain circuit that includes medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), and ventral striatum (VS). Previous neuroimaging studies produced differing accounts of the functions of these regions, including that these regions: (1) are sensitive to the value of rewards discounted by a function of delay ('subjective value'); (2) are differentially sensitive to the availability of an immediate reward; and (3) are implicated in impulsive decision-making. In this event-related fMRI study of 20 volunteers, these hypotheses were investigated simultaneously using a delay discounting task in which magnitude of rewards and stimulus type, i.e., the presence or absence of an immediate option, were independently varied, and in which participants' trait impulsivity was assessed with the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale. Results showed that mPFC, PCC, and VS are sensitive to the subjective value of rewards, whereas mPFC and PCC, but not VS, are sensitive to the presence of an immediate reward in the choice option. Moderation by individual differences in trait impulsivity was specific to the mPFC. Conjunction analysis showed significant overlap in mPFC and PCC for the main effects of subjective value and stimulus type, indicating these regions may serve multiple distinct roles during intertemporal decision-making. These findings significantly advance our understanding of the specificity and overlap of functions subserved by different regions involved in intertemporal decision-making, and help to reconcile conflicting accounts in the literature. Hum Brain Mapp, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.