Decision Neuroscience - From Neurons to Societies

Hans C. Breiter

Assistant Professor
Massachusetts General Hospital &
Dep. of Neurobiology
Havard Medical School

Contact Information

Athinoula A. Martinos Center 
Department of Radiology
Harvard Medical School,
Boston, MA 02129 


Hans C. Breiter, M.D., is a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School. Trained in mathematical logic before medical training, he completed a psychiatry residency and five post-doctoral fellowships in neuroanatomy, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), experimental psychology, pharmacokinetics/dynamics, and addiction neuroscience. He has been PI of the MGH Phenotype Genotype Project on Addiction and Mood Disorder ( since 2003, an interdisciplinary multi-center project involving more than 80 investigators integrating experimental psychology, multi-modal neuroimaging, and genetics. He has directed the Motivation and Emotion Neuroscience Collaboration (MENC) since 1999, and in 2008, became Co-Director of the MGH Translational Center for Prescription Drug Abuse. He is a founding investigator in the Brain Architecture Project centered at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories. His publications have generated 8000 citations. His research career started with guiding the team that first built an fMRI analysis pipeline between 1992-94, allowing psychiatric applications of fMRI, for which he was awarded the Klerman Award in 1996 by NARSAD. Work published in Neuron in 1996 and 1997 localized human reward circuitry, and stimulated development of the field of reward/aversion neuroimaging, which is now a salient focus of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping, and the Society for Neuroeconomics. Work performed with Danny Kahneman and Peter Shizgal between 1997-2001 demonstrated that aspects of Kahneman’s prospect theory accurately modeled human reward/aversion processing. Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 for developing prospect theory. Concurrent work at that time indicated that a common circuitry processed reward and aversion stimuli, consistent with Spinoza’s thesis of a continuum between pain and pleasure; other work tied aesthetic processes to reward/aversion systems, and showed that a common set of brain regions processed drugs, money, and social stimuli. Through the Phenotype Genotype Project, his team produced associations between microeconomic measures and genes implicated in depression and addiction in 2008, and developed a model of reward/aversion function that synthesizes Kahneman’s prospect theory with two other reward/aversion theories. This work, called Relative Preference Theory (RPT), identified recurrent and robust patterns in human preference-based decision-making. RPT meets strict engineering criteria for lawfulness, and has been connected with brain reward circuitry plus genes modulating these circuits. RPT has also demonstrated quantitative phenotypes for cocaine dependence and alcohol dependence, which can be integrated with multimodal imaging measures to raise mechanistic hypotheses regarding these disorders.