Journal Article

Deciding how to decide: ventromedial frontal lobe damage affects information acquisition in multi-attribute decision making

Lesley K. Fellows

in Brain

Published on behalf of The Guarantors of Brain

Volume 129, issue 4, pages 944-952
Published in print April 2006 | ISSN: 0006-8950
Published online February 2006 | e-ISSN: 1460-2156 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awl017
Deciding how to decide: ventromedial frontal lobe damage affects information acquisition in multi-attribute decision making

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Ventromedial frontal lobe (VMF) damage is associated with impaired decision making. Recent efforts to understand the functions of this brain region have focused on its role in tracking reward, punishment and risk. However, decision making is complex, and frontal lobe damage might be expected to affect it at other levels. This study used process-tracing techniques to explore the effect of VMF damage on multi-attribute decision making under certainty. Thirteen subjects with focal VMF damage were compared with 11 subjects with frontal damage that spared the VMF and 21 demographically matched healthy control subjects. Participants chose rental apartments in a standard information board task drawn from the literature on normal decision making. VMF subjects performed the decision making task in a way that differed markedly from all other groups, favouring an ‘alternative-based’ information acquisition strategy (i.e. they organized their information search around individual apartments). In contrast, both healthy control subjects and subjects with damage predominantly involving dorsal and/or lateral prefrontal cortex pursued primarily ‘attribute-based’ search strategies (in which information was acquired about categories such as rent and noise level across several apartments). This difference in the pattern of information acquisition argues for systematic differences in the underlying decision heuristics and strategies employed by subjects with VMF damage, which in turn may affect the quality of their choices. These findings suggest that the processes supported by ventral and medial prefrontal cortex need to be conceptualized more broadly, to account for changes in decision making under conditions of certainty, as well as uncertainty, following damage to these areas.

Keywords: executive function; problem solving; prefrontal cortex; human, lesion; D-CTL = dorsal/lateral control group; D/LF = dorsal and/or lateral frontal lobe; V-CTL = ventromedial control group; VMF = ventromedial frontal lobe

Journal Article.  6413 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neurology ; Neuroscience

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