Differential impact of ventromedial prefrontal cortex damage on “hot” and “cold” decisions under risk

  • Julia SpaniolEmail author
  • Francesco Di Muro
  • Elisa Ciaramelli


The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) is known to play a key role in reward processing and decision making. However, its relative contribution to affect-rich (“hot”) and affect-poor (“cold”) decisions is not fully understood. Damage to vmPFC is associated with impaired performance on laboratory tasks of decision making under ambiguity and risk. In the current study, we tested the hypothesis that vmPFC is critical for adaptive risk taking under “hot” conditions specifically. Participants included patients with focal lesions in vmPFC, patient controls with damage in regions not including vmPFC, and healthy controls. They completed hot and cold versions of a dynamic risk-taking task, the Columbia Card Task (CCT). Relative to healthy controls and patient controls, vmPFC patients showed a strong overall increase in risk taking in the hot version of the CCT, despite preserved sensitivity to trial-level variation in risk. In the cold version, overall risk taking was similar among all three groups, even though vmPFC patients showed reduced sensitivity to trial-level variation in risk. Sensitivity to gain and loss magnitudes did not differ significantly among the groups, in either the hot or the cold CCT. These findings lend novel support to the hypothesis that the vmPFC is critical for adaptive decision making under affect-rich conditions.


Affect Columbia Card Task Decision making Motivation Reward Risk taking 


Author Note

We are grateful to acknowledge Davide Braghittoni for his help with patient recruitment, and Carson Pun for his assistance with computer programming.

Supplementary material

13415_2018_680_MOESM1_ESM.docx (305 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 305 kb)


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia Spaniol
    • 1
    Email author
  • Francesco Di Muro
    • 2
  • Elisa Ciaramelli
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyRyerson UniversityTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Dipartimento di PsicologiaUniversità di BolognaBolognaItaly

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