Brain Topography

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 73–96 | Cite as

Neural Signatures of Economic Parameters During Decision-Making: A Functional MRI (fMRI), Electroencephalography (EEG) and Autonomic Monitoring Study

  • Ludovico Minati
  • Marina Grisoli
  • Silvana Franceschetti
  • Francesca Epifani
  • Alice Granvillano
  • Nick Medford
  • Neil A. Harrison
  • Sylvie Piacentini
  • Hugo D. Critchley
Original Paper


Adaptive behaviour requires an ability to obtain rewards by choosing between different risky options. Financial gambles can be used to study effective decision-making experimentally, and to distinguish processes involved in choice option evaluation from outcome feedback and other contextual factors. Here, we used a paradigm where participants evaluated ‘mixed’ gambles, each presenting a potential gain and a potential loss and an associated variable outcome probability. We recorded neural responses using autonomic monitoring, electroencephalography (EEG) and functional neuroimaging (fMRI), and used a univariate, parametric design to test for correlations with the eleven economic parameters that varied across gambles, including expected value (EV) and amount magnitude. Consistent with behavioural economic theory, participants were risk-averse. Gamble evaluation generated detectable autonomic responses, but only weak correlations with outcome uncertainty were found, suggesting that peripheral autonomic feedback does not play a major role in this task. Long-latency stimulus-evoked EEG potentials were sensitive to expected gain and expected value, while alpha-band power reflected expected loss and amount magnitude, suggesting parallel representations of distinct economic qualities in cortical activation and central arousal. Neural correlates of expected value representation were localized using fMRI to ventromedial prefrontal cortex, while the processing of other economic parameters was associated with distinct patterns across lateral prefrontal, cingulate, insula and occipital cortices including default-mode network and early visual areas. These multimodal data provide complementary evidence for distributed substrates of choice evaluation across multiple, predominantly cortical, brain systems wherein distinct regions are preferentially attuned to specific economic features. Our findings extend biologically-plausible models of risky decision-making while providing potential biomarkers of economic representations that can be applied to the study of deficits in motivational behaviour in neurological and psychiatric patients.


Decision making Prospect theory Functional MRI (fMRI) Electroencephalography (EEG) Autonomic monitoring 



LM was wholly funded and employed by Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Neurologico Carlo Besta (FINCB) during the core period of this study. This research also forms part of a BSMS doctoral dissertation (10/056/MIN) and is based on preparatory work conducted while LM was previously employed by BSMS. Data acquisition for the fMRI and EEG experiments was conducted at and supported by the FINCB; data acquisition for the ANS experiment and preliminary behavioural experiments were conducted at and supported by BSMS. The authors are grateful to Elena Schiaffi for excellent operational assistance during EEG data acquisition, to Stefania Ferraro and Ferruccio Panzica for helpful support and useful discussions, and to two anonymous reviewers for insightful feedback on an earlier version of this manuscript. The results of this study have been presented at the “Mapping Functional Networks for Brain Surgery” ISMRM workshop (Milan, IT, September 2011).

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they do not have any real or perceived conflicts.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ludovico Minati
    • 1
    • 2
  • Marina Grisoli
    • 3
  • Silvana Franceschetti
    • 4
  • Francesca Epifani
    • 3
  • Alice Granvillano
    • 4
  • Nick Medford
    • 2
  • Neil A. Harrison
    • 2
    • 6
    • 7
  • Sylvie Piacentini
    • 5
  • Hugo D. Critchley
    • 2
    • 6
    • 7
  1. 1.Scientific DepartmentFondazione IRCCS Istituto Neurologico Carlo BestaMilanItaly
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryClinical Imaging Sciences Centre (CISC), Brighton & Sussex Medical School (BSMS)FalmerUK
  3. 3.Neuroradiology UnitFondazione IRCCS Istituto Neurologico Carlo BestaMilanItaly
  4. 4.Neurophysiology UnitFondazione IRCCS Istituto Neurologico Carlo BestaMilanItaly
  5. 5.Neurology I UnitFondazione IRCCS Istituto Neurologico Carlo BestaMilanItaly
  6. 6.Sackler Centre for Consciousness ScienceUniversity of SussexFalmerUK
  7. 7.Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation TrustBrightonUK

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