Choice selection and reward anticipation: An fMRI study

Monique Ernst, Eric E. Nelson, Erin B. McClure, Christopher S. Monk, Suzanne Munson, Neir Eshel, Eric Zarahn, Ellen Leibenluft, Alan Zametkin, Kenneth Towbin, James Blair, Dennis Charney, Daniel S. Pine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

298 Scopus citations


We examined neural activations during decision-making using fMRI paired with the wheel of fortune task, a newly developed two-choice decision-making task with probabilistic monetary gains. In particular, we assessed the impact of high-reward/risk events relative to low-reward/risk events on neural activations during choice selection and during reward anticipation. Seventeen healthy adults completed the study. We found, in line with predictions, that (i) the selection phase predominantly recruited regions involved in visuo-spatial attention (occipito-parietal pathway), conflict (anterior cingulate), manipulation of quantities (parietal cortex), and preparation for action (premotor area), whereas the anticipation phase prominently recruited regions engaged in reward processes (ventral striatum); and (ii) high-reward/risk conditions relative to low-reward/risk conditions were associated with a greater neural response in ventral striatum during selection, though not during anticipation. Following an a priori ROI analysis focused on orbitofrontal cortex, we observed orbitofrontal cortex activation (BA 11 and 47) during selection (particularly to high-risk/reward options), and to a more limited degree, during anticipation. These findings support the notion that (1) distinct, although overlapping, pathways subserve the processes of selection and anticipation in a two-choice task of probabilistic monetary reward; (2) taking a risk and awaiting the consequence of a risky decision seem to affect neural activity differently in selection and anticipation; and thus (3) common structures, including the ventral striatum, are modulated differently by risk/reward during selection and anticipation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1585-1597
Number of pages13
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Decision-making
  • Expectation
  • Motivation
  • Neuroimaging
  • Ventral striatum
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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