Antoinette Nicolle, Stephen M. Fleming, Dominik R. Bach, Jon Driver, and Raymond J. Dolan
The Journal of Neuroscience, 2 March 2011, 31(9): 3320-3327
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.