Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Although previous neuroimaging research has identified overlapping correlates of subjective value across different reward types in the ventromedial pFC (vmPFC), it is not clear whether this “common currency” evaluative signal extends to the aesthetic domain. To examine this issue, we scanned human participants with fMRI while they made attractiveness judgments of faces and places—two stimulus categories that are associated with different underlying rewards, have very different visual properties, and are rarely compared with each other. We found overlapping signals for face and place attractiveness in the vmPFC, consistent with the idea that this region codes a signal for value that applies across disparate reward types and across both economic and aesthetic judgments. However, we also identified a subregion of vmPFC within which activity patterns for face and place attractiveness were distinguishable, suggesting that some category-specific attractiveness information is retained in this region. Finally, we observed two separate functional regions in lateral OFC: one region that exhibited a category-unique response to face attractiveness and another region that responded strongly to faces but was insensitive to their value. Our results suggest that vmPFC supports a common mechanism for reward evaluation while also retaining a degree of category-specific information, whereas lateral OFC may be involved in basic reward processing that is specific to only some stimulus categories.