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People are alarmingly susceptible to manipulations that change both their expectations and experience of the value of goods. Recent studies in behavioral economics suggest such variability reflects more than mere caprice. People commonly judge options and prices in relative terms, rather than absolutely, and display strong sensitivity to exemplar and price anchors. We propose that these findings elucidate important principles about reward processing in the brain. In particular, relative valuation may be a natural consequence of adaptive coding of neuronal firing to optimise sensitivity across large ranges of value. Furthermore, the initial apparent arbitrariness of value may reflect the brains' attempts to optimally integrate diverse sources of value-relevant information in the face of perceived uncertainty. Recent findings in neuroscience support both accounts, and implicate regions in the orbitofrontal cortex, striatum, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex in the construction of value. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


Current Opinion in Neurobiology

Publication Date





173 - 178