The neural mechanisms of affect infusion in social economic decision-making: a mediating role of the anterior insula

Neuroimage. 2012 May 15;61(1):32-40. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.02.027. Epub 2012 Feb 21.


Though emotions have been shown to have sometimes dramatic effects on decision-making, the neural mechanisms mediating these biases are relatively unexplored. Here, we investigated how incidental affect (i.e. emotional states unrelated to the decision at hand) may influence decisions, and how these biases are implemented in the brain. Nineteen adult participants made decisions which involved accepting or rejecting monetary offers from others in an Ultimatum Game while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Prior to each set of decisions, participants watched a short video clip aimed at inducing either a sad or neutral emotional state. Results demonstrated that, as expected, sad participants rejected more unfair offers than those in the neutral condition. Neuroimaging analyses revealed that receiving unfair offers while in a sad mood elicited activity in brain areas related to aversive emotional states and somatosensory integration (anterior insula) and to cognitive conflict (anterior cingulate cortex). Sad participants also showed a diminished sensitivity in neural regions associated with reward processing (ventral striatum). Importantly, insular activation uniquely mediated the relationship between sadness and decision bias. This study is the first to reveal how subtle mood states can be integrated at the neural level to influence decision-making.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Economics
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Games, Experimental
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reward
  • Social Behavior*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen