Primate anterior insular cortex represents economic decision variables proposed by prospect theory

You Ping Yang, Xinjian Li, Veit Stuphorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In humans, risk attitude is highly context-dependent, varying with wealth levels or for different potential outcomes, such as gains or losses. These behavioral effects have been modelled using prospect theory, with the key assumption that humans represent the value of each available option asymmetrically as a gain or loss relative to a reference point. It remains unknown how these computations are implemented at the neuronal level. Here we show that macaques, like humans, change their risk attitude across wealth levels and gain/loss contexts using a token gambling task. Neurons in the anterior insular cortex (AIC) encode the ‘reference point’ (i.e., the current wealth level of the monkey) and reflect ‘loss aversion’ (i.e., option value signals are more sensitive to change in the loss than in the gain context) as postulated by prospect theory. In addition, changes in the activity of a subgroup of AIC neurons correlate with the inter-trial fluctuations in choice and risk attitude. Taken together, we show that the primate AIC in risky decision-making may be involved in monitoring contextual information used to guide the animal’s willingness to accept risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number717
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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