Reward-Based Decision Making

When people make decisions, they are often influenced by the rewards associated with different choice options. Starting from this very basic observation, we examine how people experience and evaluate outcomes when they choose among different options.

One current project examines the influence of advice on the processing of gains and losses in a repeated choice task. In the task, participants can repeatedly draw cards from one of several card decks, which were associated with different monetary gains and losses. The goal of the task is to earn as much money as possible. The distinct feature of the study was that participants first received credible advice about which deck they should choose from and then repeatedly chose from the decks. Several models were compared to investigate how advice changes learning and the choices made. The result of the model comparison suggests that people perceive outcomes from recommended decks more positively than the same outcome from an alternative deck.

In a current fMRI study we investigate the psychological mechanisms that drive the different processing of outcomes from recommended decks. The basis for of this study is previous research on reward processing, which identified brain regions that are active when people experience outcomes like monetary gains and losses, or social approval. In this context, we examine if participants actually "feel" more reward, after receiving a payoff from a recommended deck, or if they even "feel" reward when losing money after drawing from the recommended deck.


Hauke Heekeren
Guido Biele

Key References

Heekeren, H. R., Wartenburger, I., Mell, T., Marschner, A., Villringer, A., & Reischies, F. M. (2007). Role of ventral striatum during reward based decision-making. NeuroReport, 18, 951-955.

Marschner, A., Mell, T., Wartenburger, I., Villringer, A., Reischies, F. M., & Heekeren, H. R. (2005). Reward-based decision-making and aging. Brain Research Bulletin, 67, 382-390.

Mell, T., Heekeren, H. R., Marschner, A., Wartenburger, I., Villringer, A., & Reischies, F. M. (2005). Effect of aging on stimulus-reward association learning. Neuropsychologia, 43, 554-563.