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Mental Time Travel, Somatic Markers and "Myopia for the Future"

Philip Gerrans
Synthese
Vol. 159, No. 3, Functional Integration and the Mind (Dec., 2007), pp. 459-474
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27653634
Page Count: 16
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Mental Time Travel, Somatic Markers and "Myopia for the Future"
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Abstract

Patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) are often described as having impaired ability for planning and decision making despite retaining intact capacities for explicit reasoning. The somatic marker hypothesis is that the VMPFC associates implicitly represented affective information with explicit representations of actions or outcomes. Consequently, when the VMPFC is damaged explicit reasoning is no longer scaffolded by affective information, leading to characteristic deficits. These deficits are exemplified in performance on the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) in which subjects with VMPFC perform significantly worse than neurotypicals in a task which requires them learn from rewarding and punishing experience to make decisions. The somatic marker theory adopts a canonical theory of emotion, in which emotions function as part of a valencing system, to explain the role of affective processes. The first part of the paper argues against this canonical account. The second part provides a different account of the role of the role of the VMPFC in decision-making which does not depend on the canonical account of emotion. Together the first and second parts of the paper provide the basis for a different interpretation of results on the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT). In fact the IGT may be probing a deficit in what has been called mental time travel: the ability to access and use information from previous experience and imaginatively rehearse future experiences as part of the process of deliberation.

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