Insensitivity to future consequences following damage to human prefrontal cortex.
Following damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, humans develop a defect in real-life decision-making, which contrasts with otherwise normal intellectual functions. Currently, there is no neuropsychological probe to detect in the laboratory, and the cognitive and neural mechanisms responsible for this defect have resisted explanation. Here, using a novel task which simulates real-life decision-making in the way it factors uncertainty of premises and outcomes, as well as reward and punishment, we find that prefrontal patients, unlike controls, are oblivious to the future consequences of their actions, and seem to be guided by immediate prospects only. This finding offers, for the first time, the possibility of detecting these patients' elusive impairment in the laboratory, measuring it, and investigating its possible causes.