Choosing between small, likely rewards and large, unlikely rewards activates inferior and orbital prefrontal cortex.
Patients sustaining lesions of the orbital prefrontal cortex (PFC) exhibit marked impairments in the performance of laboratory-based gambling, or risk-taking, tasks, suggesting that this part of the human PFC contributes to decision-making cognition. However, to date, little is known about the particular regions of the orbital cortex that participate in this function. In the present study, eight healthy volunteers were scanned, using H(2)(15)0 PET technology, while performing a novel computerized risk-taking task. The task involved predicting which of two mutually exclusive outcomes would occur, but critically, the larger reward (and penalty) was associated with choice of the least likely outcome, whereas the smallest reward (and penalty) was associated with choice of the most likely outcome. Resolving these "conflicting" decisions was associated with three distinct foci of regional cerebral blood flow increase within the right inferior and orbital PFC: laterally, in the anterior part of the middle frontal gyrus [Brodmann area 10 (BA 10)], medially, in the orbital gyrus (BA 11), and posteriorly, in the anterior portion of the inferior frontal gyrus (BA 47). By contrast, increases in the degree of conflict inherent in these decisions was associated with only limited changes in activity within orbital PFC and the anterior cingulate cortex. These results suggest that decision making recruits neural activity from multiple regions of the inferior PFC that receive information from a diverse set of cortical and limbic inputs, and that the contribution of the orbitofrontal regions may involve processing changes in reward-related information.