Covert valuation for information sampling and choice

Butler J, Muller T, Veselic S Malalasekera N, Hunt L, Behrens T Kennerley S 2021.


We use our eyes to assess the value of objects around us and carefully fixate options that we are about to choose. Neurons in the prefrontal cortex reliably encode the value of fixated options, which is essential for decision making. Yet as a decision unfolds, it remains unclear how prefrontal regions determine which option should be fixated next. Here we show that anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) encodes the value of options in the periphery to guide subsequent fixations during economic choice. In an economic decision-making task involving four simultaneously presented cues, we found rhesus macaques evaluated cues using their peripheral vision. This served two distinct purposes: subjects were more likely to fixate valuable peripheral cues, and more likely to choose valuable options whose cues were never even fixated. ACC, orbitofrontal cortex, dorsolateral pre-frontal cortex, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex neurons all encoded cue value post-fixation. ACC was unique, however, in also encoding the value of cues before fixation and even cues that were never fixated. This pre-saccadic value encoding by ACC predicted which cue was next fixated during the decision process. ACC therefore conducts simultaneous processing of peripheral information to guide information sampling and choice during decision making.