Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
A central concern in the study of learning and decision-making is the identification of neural signals associated with the values of choice alternatives. An important factor in understanding the neural correlates of value is the representation of the object itself, separate from the act of choosing. Is it the case that the representation of an object within visual areas will change if it is associated with a particular value? We used fMRI adaptation to measure the neural similarity of a set of novel objects before and after participants learned to associate monetary values with the objects. We used a range of both positive and negative values to allow us to distinguish effects of behavioral salience (i.e., large vs. small values) from effects of valence (i.e., positive vs. negative values). During the scanning session, participants made a perceptual judgment unrelated to value. Crucially, the similarity of the visual features of any pair of objects did not predict the similarity of their value, so we could distinguish adaptation effects due to each dimension of similarity. Within early visual areas, we found that value similarity modulated the neural response to the objects after training. These results show that an abstract dimension, in this case, monetary value, modulates neural response to an object in visual areas of the brain even when attention is diverted.