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The drift diffusion model as the choice rule in inter-temporal and risky choice: A case study in medial orbitofrontal cortex lesion patients and controls

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Sequential sampling models such as the drift diffusion model (DDM) have a long tradition in research on perceptual decision-making, but mounting evidence suggests that these models can account for response time (RT) distributions that arise during reinforcement learning and value-based decision-making. Building on this previous work, we implemented the DDM as the choice rule in inter-temporal choice (temporal discounting) and risky choice (probability discounting) using hierarchical Bayesian parameter estimation. We validated our approach in data from nine patients with focal lesions to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex / medial orbitofrontal cortex (vmPFC/mOFC) and nineteen age- and education-matched controls. Model comparison revealed that, for both tasks, the data were best accounted for by a variant of the drift diffusion model including a non-linear mapping from value-differences to trial-wise drift rates. Posterior predictive checks confirmed that this model provided a superior account of the relationship between value and RT. We then applied this modeling framework and 1) reproduced our previous results regarding temporal discounting in vmPFC/mOFC patients and 2) showed in a previously unpublished data set on risky choice that vmPFC/mOFC patients exhibit increased risk-taking relative to controls. Analyses of DDM parameters revealed that patients showed substantially increased non-decision times and reduced response caution during risky choice. In contrast, vmPFC/mOFC damage abolished neither scaling nor asymptote of the drift rate. Relatively intact value processing was also confirmed using DDM mixture models, which revealed that in both groups >98% of trials were better accounted for by a DDM with value modulation than by a null model without value modulation. Our results highlight that novel insights can be gained from applying sequential sampling models in studies of inter-temporal and risky decision-making in cognitive neuroscience.

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