Abstract Value Encoding in Neural Populations But Not Single Neurons

Justin M. Fine, David J Maisson, Seng Bum Michael Yoo, Tyler Cash-Padgett, Maya Z Wang, Jan Zimmermann, Benjamin Y Hayden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An important open question in neuroeconomics is how the brain represents the value of offers in a way that is both abstract (allowing for comparison) and concrete (preserving the details of the factors that influence value). Here, we examine neuronal responses to risky and safe options in five brain regions that putatively encode value in male macaques. Surprisingly, we find no detectable overlap in the neural codes used for risky and safe options, even when the options have identical subjective values (as revealed by preference) in any of the regions. Indeed, responses are weakly correlated and occupy distinct (semi-orthogonal) encoding subspaces. Notably, however, these subspaces are linked through a linear transform of their constituent encodings, a property that allows for comparison of dissimilar option types. This encoding scheme allows these regions to multiplex decision related processes: they can encode the detailed factors that influence offer value (here, risky and safety) but also directly compare dissimilar offer types. Together these results suggest a neuronal basis for the qualitatively different psychological properties of risky and safe options and highlight the power of population geometry to resolve outstanding problems in neural coding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4650-4663
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number25
StatePublished - Jun 21 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the by National Institute on Drug Abuse Grant P30 DA048742-01A1 (to B.Y.H. and J.Z.), the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging Grant P41 EB027061 (to B.Y.H. and J.Z.), and the UMN AIRP Award (B.Y.H. and J.Z.). We thank Geoffrey Schoenbaum for helpful discussions. We also thank Marc Mancarella, Caleb Strait, and Tommy Blanchard for assistance with data collection; Sarah Heilbronner for help with anatomy; and the rest of the Hayden and Zimmermann labs for valuable discussions. The authors declare no competing financial interests. Correspondence should be addressed to Benjamin Y. Hayden at benhayden@gmail.com. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1954-22.2023 Copyright © 2023 the authors

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2023 the authors.


  • cingulate cortex
  • probability
  • reward
  • risk
  • ventromedial prefrontal cortex

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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