The neural code of reward anticipation in human orbitofrontal cortex

Thorsten Kahnt*, Jakob Heinzle, Soyoung Q. Park, John Dylan Haynes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

156 Scopus citations


An optimal choice among alternative behavioral options requires precise anticipatory representations of their possible outcomes. A fundamental question is how such anticipated outcomes are represented in the brain. Reward coding at the level of single cells in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) follows a more heterogeneous coding scheme than suggested by studies using functional MRI (fMRI) in humans. Using a combination of multivariate pattern classification and fMRI we show that the reward value of sensory cues can be decoded from distributed fMRI patterns in the OFC. This distributed representation is compatible with previous reports from animal electrophysiology that show that reward is encoded by different neural populations with opposing coding schemes. Importantly, the fMRI patterns representing specific values during anticipation are similar to those that emerge during the receipt of reward. Furthermore, we show that the degree of this coding similarity is related to subjects' ability to use value information to guide behavior. These findings narrow the gap between reward coding in humans and animals and corroborate the notion that value representations in OFC are independent of whether reward is anticipated or actually received.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6010-6015
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number13
StatePublished - Mar 30 2010


  • Decision making
  • Distributed coding
  • Expected reward value
  • Functional MRI
  • Multivariate decoding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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