Although it is widely known that brain regions such as the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, and the ventral striatum play large roles in decision making, their precise contributions remain unclear. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging and principles of reinforcement learning theory to investigate the relationship between current reinforcements and future decisions. In the experiment, subjects chose between high-risk (i.e., low probability of a large monetary reward) and low-risk (high probability of a small reward) decisions. For each subject, we estimated value functions that represented the degree to which reinforcements affected the value of decision options on the subsequent trial. Individual differences in value functions predicted not only trial-to-trial behavioral strategies, such as choosing high-risk decisions following high-risk rewards, but also the relationship between activity in prefrontal and subcortical regions during one trial and the decision made in the subsequent trial. These findings provide a novel link between behavior and neural activity by demonstrating that value functions are manifested both in adjustments in behavioral strategies and in the neural activity that accompanies those adjustments.
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