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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

June 2013, Vol. 25, No. 6, Pages 852-861
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00369)
© 2013 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Neural Representation of Reward Probability: Evidence from the Illusion of Control
Article PDF (341.05 KB)

To support reward-based decision-making, the brain must encode potential outcomes both in terms of their incentive value and their probability of occurrence. Recent research has made it clear that the brain bears multiple representations of reward magnitude, meaning that a single choice option may be represented differently—and even inconsistently—in different brain areas. There are some hints that the same may be true for reward probability. Preliminary evidence hints that, even as systematic distortions of probability are expressed in behavior, these may not always be uniformly reflected at the neural level: Some neural representations of probability may be immune from such distortions. This study provides new evidence consistent with this possibility. Participants in a behavioral experiment displayed a classic “illusion of control,” providing higher estimates of reward probability for gambles they had chosen than for identical gambles that were imposed on them. However, an fMRI study of the same task revealed that neural prediction error signals, arising when gamble outcomes were revealed, were unaffected by the illusion of control. The resulting behavioral–neural dissociation reinforces the case for multiple, inconsistent internal representations of reward probability, while also prompting a reinterpretation of the illusion of control effect itself.