Stimulating the orbitofrontal cortex in order to change economic choices

Sébastien Ballesta is a researcher at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives et Adaptatives (LNCA). Credits DR

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Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have gained a better understanding of the physiological process at work in the brain during economic decision-making, proving that the value signals identified in the orbitofrontal cortex are indeed involved in decision-making. Sébastien Ballesta, a lecturer at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives et Adaptatives, who participated in the study published in Nature, explains.

An economic theory states that individuals make economic choices based on the subjective value that they attribute to the various options. “For example, when I’m reading the menu at a restaurant, I include what I consider to be the quality of the various dishes and their price in my assessment. The comparison of the subjective value of each option enables me to make a decision”, explains Sébastien Ballesta, who is interested in how the brain formulates these hypotheses.

An initial study carried out at Harvard in 2006 by Camillo Padoa-Schioppa revealed the presence in the orbitofrontal cortex of neurons whose activity is proportionate to the subjective value attributed to the choices. During the experiment, rhesus macaques had to choose between various pairs from ten liquid rewards: for example, six drops of tea vs. two drops of apple juice. There is both a quanti