- The role of goal proximity and invested effort for the valuation of expected outcomes : an investigation with functional magnetic resonance imaging (2011)
- In human neuroscientific research, there has been an increasing interest in how the brain computes the value of an anticipated outcome. However, evidence is still missing about which valuation related brain regions are modulated by the proximity to an expected goal and the previously invested effort to reach a goal. The aim of this dissertation is to investigate the effects of goal proximity and invested effort on valuation related regions in the human brain. We addressed this question in two fMRI studies by integrating a commonly used reward anticipation task in differential versions of a Multitrial Reward Schedule Paradigm. In both experiments, subjects had to perform consecutive reward anticipation tasks under two different reward contingencies: in the delayed condition, participants received a monetary reward only after successful completion of multiple consecutive trials. In the immediate condition, money was earned after every successful trial. In the first study, we could demonstrate that the rostral cingulate zone of the posterior medial frontal cortex signals action value contingent to goal proximity, thereby replicating neurophysiological findings about goal proximity signals in a homologous region in non-human primates. The findings of the second study imply that brain regions associated with general cognitive control processes are modulated by previous effort investment. Furthermore, we found the posterior lateral prefrontal cortex and the orbitofrontal cortex to be involved in coding for the effort-based context of a situation. In sum, these results extend the role of the human rostral cingulate zone in outcome evaluation to the continuous updating of action values over a course of action steps based on the proximity to the expected reward. Furthermore, we tentatively suggest that previous effort investment invokes processes under the control of the executive system, and that posterior lateral prefrontal cortex and the orbitofrontal cortex are involved in an effort-based context representation that can be used for outcome evaluation that is dependent on the characteristics of the current situation.