Overt attention toward appetitive cues enhances their subjective value, independent of orbitofrontal cortex activity

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Neural representations of value underlie many behaviors that are crucial for survival. Previously, we found that value representations in primate orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) are modulated by attention, specifically, by overt shifts of gaze toward or away from reward-associated visual cues (McGinty et al., 2016). Here, we investigate the influence of overt attention on behavior by asking how gaze shifts correlate with reward anticipatory responses and whether activity in OFC mediates this correlation. Macaque monkeys viewed pavlovian conditioned appetitive cues on a visual display, while the fraction of time they spent looking toward or away from the cues was measured using an eye tracker. Also measured during cue presentation were the reward anticipation, indicated by conditioned licking responses (CRs), and single-neuron activity in OFC. In general, gaze allocation predicted subsequent licking responses: the longer the monkeys spent looking at a cue at a given time point in a trial, the more likely they were to produce an anticipatory CR later in that trial, as if the subjective value of the cue were increased. To address neural mechanisms, mediation analysis measured the extent to which the gaze–CR correlation could be statistically explained by the concurrently recorded firing of OFC neurons. The resulting mediation effects were indistinguishable from chance. Therefore, while overt attention may increase the subjective value of reward-associated cues (as revealed by anticipatory behaviors), the underlying mechanism remains unknown, as does the functional significance of gaze-driven modulation of OFC value signals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberENEURO.0230-19.2019
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)


  • Behavior
  • Electrophysiology
  • Pavlovian conditioning
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Reward


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