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Comparative Study
, 31 (9), 3320-7

A Regret-Induced Status Quo Bias

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Comparative Study

A Regret-Induced Status Quo Bias

Antoinette Nicolle et al. J Neurosci.

Abstract

A suboptimal bias toward accepting the status quo option in decision-making is well established behaviorally, but the underlying neural mechanisms are less clear. Behavioral evidence suggests the emotion of regret is higher when errors arise from rejection rather than acceptance of a status quo option. Such asymmetry in the genesis of regret might drive the status quo bias on subsequent decisions, if indeed erroneous status quo rejections have a greater neuronal impact than erroneous status quo acceptances. To test this, we acquired human fMRI data during a difficult perceptual decision task that incorporated a trial-to-trial intrinsic status quo option, with explicit signaling of outcomes (error or correct). Behaviorally, experienced regret was higher after an erroneous status quo rejection compared with acceptance. Anterior insula and medial prefrontal cortex showed increased blood oxygenation level-dependent signal after such status quo rejection errors. In line with our hypothesis, a similar pattern of signal change predicted acceptance of the status quo on a subsequent trial. Thus, our data link a regret-induced status quo bias to error-related activity on the preceding trial.

Figures

Figure 1.
Figure 1.
An exemplar trial timeline. Participants began each trial holding the key corresponding to their choice on the previous trial, while fixating on the central cross flanked by two tramlines. After a varied delay, a ball landed on either the left or right of the screen, at any height on the tramline. Participants were then asked to judge whether the ball landed IN (overlapping the line) or OUT. Their decision was indicated by either continuing to depress their previous decision (a black box served to remind them of this status quo), or to switch to the alternative key to reject the status quo and switch their decision. On rejecting the status quo, participants then held the new key until they chose to switch again on a later trial. Accuracy feedback and associated monetary win or loss was presented at the end of each trial.
Figure 2.
Figure 2.
Group SPM data showing responses at the time of outcome feedback, thresholded at p < 0.005 for display purposes, shown on a normalized canonical template brain. a, Bilateral anterior insula response to the main effect of error > correct (MNI peaks −36, 17, −5 and 39, 26, −2). b, Whole brain corrected activity in medial prefrontal cortex (MNI peak 3, 47, 25) reflecting the interaction of choice and outcome [reject (error > correct) − accept (error > correct)]. c, d, Anterior insula activity from the main effect of error, showing the same interaction of choice and outcome (c) and the plotted mean parameter estimates for the four outcome types at the peak voxel (MNI −30, 26, 16) (d). Error bars show within-subject SEs of the difference between error and correct responses for the two decision types.
Figure 3.
Figure 3.
Figure illustrates how the status quo bias is contingent upon the outcome of the previous trial. Error bars show within-subject SEs of the difference between error and correct responses for the two decision types. ns, Not significant.
Figure 4.
Figure 4.
Group SPM data showing responses at the time of subsequent choice, thresholded at p < 0.005 for display purposes, shown on a normalized canonical template brain. a, b, Anterior insula activity reflecting an interaction of previous choice and outcome with current choice (MNI −30, 26, 16) [i.e., reject (error − correct) > accept (error − correct) only when the current choice is to accept). c, d, The same three-way interaction within medial prefrontal cortex (peak MNI 15, 56, 13).

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