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Decision-Making Enabled By Neurons: Value Assigned To Available Choices.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have been able to pinpoint the neurons that are capable of deciphering the value that people attach// to different items. The activity of these neurons predicts the nature of decision making, when a person needs to choose from an array of items available.

To quote the words of Camillo Padoa-Schioppa, PhD, HMS research fellow in neurobiology and lead author of the paper 'We have long known that different neurons in various parts of the brain respond to separate attributes, such as quantity, color, and taste. But when we make a choice, for example: between different foods, we combine all these attributes--we assign a value to each available item. The neurons we have identified encode the value individuals assign to the available items when they make choices based on subjective preferences, a behavior called 'economic choice.'

We are making choices everyday, and some of them range between a choice of working and earning more or enjoying more leisure time, or choosing to invest in bonds or in stocks. There is an apparent neural bases of an economic choice, which actually involves assigning value to the available options in front of us. Now, researchers are trying to comprehend the brain mechanisms that are actually working to make this possible.

In the study, Padoa-Schioppa and John Assad, PhD, HMS associate professor of neurobiology, found a sizeable number of neurons located in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) that assigns values to different goods on a common value scale. Assigning values on a common scale allows comparing goods, like apples and oranges, that otherwise lack a natural basis for comparison.

Padoa-Schioppa says 'The activity of these neurons reflects the value subjects assign to the available goods when they make choices. A concrete possibility is that various choice deficits may result from an impaired or dysfunctional activity of this population, though this hypothesis remains
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