Striatum and pre-SMA facilitate decision-making under time pressure

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Nov 11;105(45):17538-42. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0805903105. Epub 2008 Nov 3.


Human decision-making almost always takes place under time pressure. When people are engaged in activities such as shopping, driving, or playing chess, they have to continually balance the demands for fast decisions against the demands for accurate decisions. In the cognitive sciences, this balance is thought to be modulated by a response threshold, the neural substrate of which is currently subject to speculation. In a speed decision-making experiment, we presented participants with cues that indicated different requirements for response speed. Application of a mathematical model for the behavioral data confirmed that cueing for speed lowered the response threshold. Functional neuroimaging showed that cueing for speed activates the striatum and the pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA), brain structures that are part of a closed-loop motor circuit involved in the preparation of voluntary action plans. Moreover, activation in the striatum is known to release the motor system from global inhibition, thereby facilitating faster but possibly premature actions. Finally, the data show that individual variation in the activation of striatum and pre-SMA is selectively associated with individual variation in the amplitude of the adjustments in the response threshold estimated by the mathematical model. These results demonstrate that when people have to make decisions under time pressure their striatum and pre-SMA show increased levels of activation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time
  • Time Factors