Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Anterior Insula Activity Predicts the Influence of Positively Framed Messages on Decision Making

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Anterior Insula Activity Predicts the Influence of Positively Framed Messages on Decision Making

Article excerpt

The neural mechanisms underlying the influence of persuasive messages on decision making are largely unknown. We address this issue using event-related fMRI to investigate how informative messages alter risk appraisal during choice. Participants performed the Iowa Gambling Task while viewing a positively framed, negatively framed, or control message about the options. The right anterior insula correlated with improvement in choice behavior due to the positively framed but not the negatively framed message. With the positively framed message, there was increased activation proportional to message effectiveness when less-preferred options were chosen, consistent with a role in the prediction of adverse outcomes. In addition, the dorsomedial and the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex correlated with overall decision quality, regardless of message type. The dorsomedial region mediated the relationship between the right anterior insula and decision quality with the positively framed messages. These findings suggest a network of frontal brain regions that integrate informative messages into the evaluation of options during decision making. Supplemental procedures and results for this article may be downloaded from http://cabn.psychonomic-journals.org/content/supplemental.

Persuasive messages are abundant in modern society and take a variety of forms, from public service announcements to political campaign slogans to product advertisements. These messages target different decisions, but they are all intended to influence the choices made by individuals. The question of how to persuade people to make more rational, adaptive decisions is an urgent one. The rise of cognitive and affective neuroscience suggests a new approach to the study of persuasion: Just as advancing our understanding of the molecular basis of pharmaceuticals has led to the development of more effective medicine, so too may advancing our understanding of the neural basis of persuasive messages lead to the development of more effective interventions for behavior change. To pursue this approach, we used the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT; Bechara, Damasio, Damasio, & Anderson, 1994), with positively and negatively framed informative messages about the nature of the choice alternatives, in a rapid event-related fMRI design (see Figure 1). Our primary focus was on determining the brain areas that underlie the influence of informative messages on choice during decision making under uncertainty.

The influence of messages on choice behavior is a phenomenon distinct from that of decision making per se. The critical issue is that a message is an independent communication, separate from the presentation of choice alternatives. Although the neural basis of decision making has been studied extensively, relatively little is known about the brain regions involved specifically in the influence of informative messages on decision making. There have been recent studies of the effects of political messages (Kato et al., 2009), brand identity (McClure et al., 2004), and expert endorsement (Klucharev, Smidts, & Fernández, 2008), but these studies have been focused on changes in attitudes rather than changes in choice behavior, and behavioral and stated preferences need not be correlated (McClure et al., 2004).

Although there is a paucity of functional-imaging data, behavioral work and supporting theory suggest that the effectiveness of persuasive messages depends, at least in part, on their alteration of the appraised risk of available options (Rothman & Salovey, 1997). Furthermore, it is well established that risk appraisals during choice are important to human decision making. Two regions that may be key to risk appraisal are the anterior insula (AI) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) (e.g., Behrens, Woolrich, Walton, & Rushworth, 2007; Brown & Braver, 2007; Fukui, Murai, Fukuyama, Hayashi, & Hanakawa, 2005; Paulus & Frank, 2006; Preuschoff, Quartz, & Bossaerts, 2008). …

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