Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Brain correlates of choice-induced preference change.

In an interesting article, Izuma et al. call classical cognitive dissonance theory into question. Their observations suggest that our preference for our choice between two equally desirable items is established by the act of choosing, not by a subsequent reduction of our preference for one of them. In other words, the mere act of rejecting favorite goods actually reduces preferences for them. Their abstract gives a clear summary of their observations:
According to many modern economic theories, actions simply reflect an individual's preferences, whereas a psychological phenomenon called “cognitive dissonance” claims that actions can also create preference. Cognitive dissonance theory states that after making a difficult choice between two equally preferred items, the act of rejecting a favorite item induces an uncomfortable feeling (cognitive dissonance), which in turn motivates individuals to change their preferences to match their prior decision (i.e., reducing preference for rejected items). Recently, however, Chen and Risen [Chen K, Risen J (2010) J Pers Soc Psychol 99:573–594] pointed out a serious methodological problem, which casts a doubt on the very existence of this choice-induced preference change as studied over the past 50 y. Here, using a proper control condition and two measures of preferences (self-report and brain activity), we found that the mere act of making a choice can change self-report preference as well as its neural representation (i.e., striatum activity), thus providing strong evidence for choice-induced preference change. Furthermore, our data indicate that the anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex tracked the degree of cognitive dissonance on a trial-by-trial basis. Our findings provide important insights into the neural basis of how actions can alter an individual's preferences.

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