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We develop a neuronal theory of the choice process (NTCP), which takes a subject from the moment in which two options are presented to the selection of one of the two. The theory is based on an optimal signal detection, which generalizes the signal detection theory by adding the choice of effort as optimal choice for a given informational value of the signal for every effort level and a cost of effort. NTCP predicts the choice made as a stochastic choice: That is, as a probability distribution over two options in a set, the level of effort provided, the error rate, and the time to respond. The theory provides a unified account of behavioral evidence (choices made, error rate, time to respond) as well as neural evidence (represented by the effort rate measured for example by the level of brain activation). The theory also provides a unified explanation of several facts discovered and interpreted in the last decades of experimental economic analysis of choices, which we review.


This article was originally published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, volume 106, issue 52, in 2009. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0912500106

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National Academy of Sciences