Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

The Cognitive and Neural Basis of Option Generation and Subsequent Choice

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

The Cognitive and Neural Basis of Option Generation and Subsequent Choice

Article excerpt

Published online: 29 May 2013

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Decision-making research has thoroughly investi- gated how people choose from a set of externally provided options. However, in ill-structured real-world environments, possible options for action are not defined by the situation but have to be generated by the agent. Here, we apply behavioral analysis (Study 1) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (Study 2) to investigate option generation and subsequent choice. For this purpose, we employ a new experimental task that requires participants to generate options for simple real- world scenarios and to subsequently decide among the gener- ated options. Correlational analysis with a cognitive test bat- tery suggests that retrieval of options from long-term memory is a relevant process during option generation. The results of the fMRI study demonstrate that option generation in simple real-world scenarios recruits the anterior prefrontal cortex. Furthermore, we show that choice behavior and its neural correlates differ between self-generated and externally provid- ed options. Specifically, choice between self-generated op- tions is associated with stronger recruitment of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. This impact of option generation on subsequent choice underlines the need for an expanded model of decision making to accommodate choice between self-generated options.

Keywords Decision making . Option generation . Anterior prefrontal cortex . Anterior cingulate cortex . Take-the-first heuristic

The cognitive and neural basis of option generation and subsequent choice

Research on decision making has made considerable prog- ress with respect to the evaluation and selection of choice options (Glimcher & Rustichini, 2004; Rangel, Camerer, & Montague, 2008). These approaches presuppose a set of externally provided options and do not address the question of where the options come from in the first place. This does not pose a problem when decision making is investigated in well-constrained experimental environments (e.g., in the case of a lottery choice experiment). However, a serious problem arises when real-world complexity is approached, where most decision situations are underconstrained. In this type of situation, options are not directly provided by the environment but have to be generated by the agent. To illustrate, imagine that you miss your train and have to spend 1 h waiting for the next train. Quite obviously, before making a decision about how to spend this waiting time, you first have to generate options for what you could possibly do. Therefore, we and others have suggested that option generation should be included in decision-making models as a predecisional stage (Fellows, 2004; Kalis, Mojzisch, Germany

Schweizer, & Kaiser, 2008; Porcelli & Delgado, 2009; Smaldino & Richerson, 2012) (see Fig. 1a).

The present work employs a neurocognitive approach to provide empirical support for an expanded model of deci- sion making by addressing option generation and its impact on subsequent choice. First, we assess the cognitive and neural correlates of option generation. Second, we test the hypothesis that choice behavior and its neural correlates differ between self-generated and externally provided op- tions. Confirmation of the latter hypothesis would strongly imply that decision-making research must broaden its focus to accommodate decisions about self-generated options in ill-structured situations.

Although some proposals concerning the cognitive pro- cesses associated with option generation have been made, empirical research is limited (Keller & Ho, 1988). It is generally assumed that option generation is a form of mem- ory search and retrieval, but the relationship between per- formance on option generation and long-term memory re- trieval tasks has not been empirically addressed (Johnson & Raab, 2003; Klein, Wolf, Militello, & Zsambok, 1995). …

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