Subjective value then confidence in human ventromedial prefrontal cortex
Two fundamental goals of decision making are to select actions that maximize rewards while minimizing costs and to have strong confidence in the accuracy of a judgment. Neural signatures of these two forms of value: the subjective value (SV) of choice alternatives and the value of the judgment (confidence), have both been observed in ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). However, the relationship between these dual value signals and their relative time courses are unknown. Twenty-eight men and women underwent fMRI while performing a two-phase approach-avoidance (Ap-Av) task with mixed-outcomes of monetary rewards paired with painful shock stimuli. Neural responses were measured during offer valuation (offer phase) and choice valuation (commit phase) and analyzed with respect to observed decision outcomes, model-estimated SV and confidence. During the offer phase, vmPFC tracked SV and the decision but not confidence. During the commit phase, vmPFC tracked confidence, computed as the quadratic extension of SV, but not the offer valuation nor the decision. In fact, vmPFC responses from the commit phase were selective for confidence even for reject decisions wherein confidence and SV are inversely related. Conversely, activation of the cognitive control network, including within lateral prefrontal cortex (lPFC) and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) was associated with ambivalence, during both the offer and commit phases. Taken together, our results reveal complementary representations in vmPFC during value-based decision making that temporally dissociate such that offer valuation (SV) emerges before decision valuation (confidence).