Exploring status quo bias in the human brain

Mar 15, 2010

The more difficult the decision we face, the more likely we are not to act, according to new research by UCL scientists that examines the neural pathways involved in 'status quo bias' in the human brain.

The study, published today in (PNAS), looked at the decision-making of participants taking part in a tennis 'line judgement' game while their brains were scanned using functional MRI (fMRI).

First author Stephen Fleming, Wellcome Trust Centre for at UCL, said: "When faced with a complex decision people tend to accept the status quo, hence the old saying 'When in doubt, do nothing.'

"Whether it's moving house or changing TV channel, there is a considerable tendency to stick with the current situation and choose not to act, and we wanted to explore this bias towards inaction in our study and examine the regions of the brain involved."

The 16 study participants were asked to look at a cross between two tramlines on a screen while holding down a 'default' key. They then saw a ball land in the court and had to make a decision as to whether it was in or out. On each trial, the computer signalled which was the current default option - 'in' or 'out'. The participants continued to hold down the key to accept the default and had to release it and change to another key to reject the default.

The results showed a consistent bias towards the default, which led to errors. As the task became more difficult, the bias became even more pronounced. The fMRI scans showed that a region of the known as the (STN) was more active in the cases when the default was rejected. Also, greater flow of information was seen from a separate region sensitive to difficulty (the ) to the STN. This indicates that the STN plays a key role in overcoming status quo bias when the decision is difficult.

Stephen added: "Interestingly, current treatments of Parkinson's disease like deep-brain stimulation (DBS) work by disrupting the subthalamic nucleus to alleviate impaired initiation of action. This is one example of how knowing about disease mechanisms can inform our knowledge of normal decision making, and vice-versa.

"This study looked at a very simple perceptual decision and there are obviously other powerful factors, such as desires and goals that influence decisions about whether or not to act. So, it would be of interest to investigate how these regions respond when values and needs come into play."

Explore further: Clot dissolver tPA's tardy twin could aid in stroke recovery

More information: 'Overcoming status quo bias in the human brain' is published online ahead of print in PNAS.

Related Stories

Financial advice causes 'off-loading' in the brain

Mar 24, 2009

A study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) shows that expert advice may shut down areas of the brain responsible for decision-making processes, particularly when individuals are trying to evaluate a situation ...

Brain activity predicts people's choices

Mar 24, 2009

The activity in one brain structure can predict people's preferences, according to new research in the March 25 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. The study shows that even when people rate options similarly, they will c ...

Recommended for you

New ALS associated gene identified using innovative strategy

7 hours ago

Using an innovative exome sequencing strategy, a team of international scientists led by John Landers, PhD, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School has shown that TUBA4A, the gene encoding the Tubulin Alpha 4A protein, ...

Can bariatric surgery lead to severe headache?

8 hours ago

Bariatric surgery may be a risk factor for a condition that causes severe headaches, according to a study published in the October 22, 2014, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurol ...

Bipolar disorder discovery at the nano level

8 hours ago

A nano-sized discovery by Northwestern Medicine scientists helps explain how bipolar disorder affects the brain and could one day lead to new drug therapies to treat the mental illness.

Brain simulation raises questions

12 hours ago

What does it mean to simulate the human brain? Why is it important to do so? And is it even possible to simulate the brain separately from the body it exists in? These questions are discussed in a new paper ...

Human skin cells reprogrammed directly into brain cells

12 hours ago

Scientists have described a way to convert human skin cells directly into a specific type of brain cell affected by Huntington's disease, an ultimately fatal neurodegenerative disorder. Unlike other techniques ...

User comments : 0