Self-control allows humans the patience necessary to maximize reward attainment in the future. Yet it remains elusive when and how the preference to self-controlled choice is formed. We measured brain activity while female and male humans performed an intertemporal choice task in which they first received delayed real liquid rewards (forced-choice trial), and then made a choice between the reward options based on the experiences (free-choice trial). We found that, while subjects were awaiting an upcoming reward in the forced-choice trial, the anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC) tracked a dynamic signal reflecting the pleasure of anticipating the future reward. Importantly, this prefrontal signal was specifically observed in self-controlled individuals, and moreover, interregional negative coupling between the prefrontal region and the ventral striatum (VS) became stronger in those individuals. During consumption of the liquid rewards, reduced ventral striatal activity predicted self-controlled choices in the subsequent free-choice trials. These results suggest that a well-coordinated prefrontal-striatal mechanism during the reward experience shapes preferences regarding the future self-controlled choice.
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