Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Overcoming status quo bias in our brains

Yet another interesting bit of work involving Ray Dolan and his collaborators.  Here is the abstract and a summary figure:
Humans often accept the status quo when faced with conflicting choice alternatives. However, it is unknown how neural pathways connecting cognition with action modulate this status quo acceptance. Here we developed a visual detection task in which subjects tended to favor the default when making difficult, but not easy, decisions. This bias was suboptimal in that more errors were made when the default was accepted. A selective increase in subthalamic nucleus (STN) activity was found when the status quo was rejected in the face of heightened decision difficulty. Analysis of effective connectivity showed that inferior frontal cortex (rIFC), a region more active for difficult decisions, exerted an enhanced modulatory influence on the STN during switches away from the status quo. These data suggest that the neural circuits required to initiate controlled, nondefault actions are similar to those previously shown to mediate outright response suppression. We conclude that specific prefrontal-basal ganglia dynamics are involved in rejecting the default, a mechanism that may be important in a range of difficult choice scenarios.

Effects of decision difficulty and default rejection on connectivity. (A) Coronal sections are shown. Circled are the regions that were entered into a connectivity analysis. (B) Schematic showing the winning dynamic causal model and the pattern of significant connections. Default rejection (reject) was associated with increased influence of the rIFC on the STN. The authors observed correlation of activity in bilateral inferior frontal cortex (IFC) and bilateral medial frontal cortex (MFC)with increasing reaction time for rejecting default behavior. They saw additional main effects of decision difficulty in both MFC and IFC, in line with specific recruitment of these regions during situations requiring increased cognitive control.

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