Reason's Enemy Is Not Emotion: Engagement of Cognitive Control Networks Explains Biases in Gain/Loss Framing

J Neurosci. 2017 Mar 6, p. 3486-16; DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3486-16.2017

Fox School of Business Research Paper No. 17-010

Posted: 10 Mar 2017 Last revised: 24 Apr 2017

See all articles by Rosa Li

Rosa Li

Duke University - Department of Psychology and Neuroscience

David Smith

Temple University - Department of Psychology

John A. Clithero

Lundquist College of Business, University of Oregon

Vinod Venkatraman

Temple University - Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management; Temple University - Decision Neuroscience

R. McKell Carter

University of Colorado Boulder

Scott Huettel

Duke University - Department of Psychology and Neuroscience

Date Written: March 6, 2017

Abstract

In the classic gain/loss framing effect, describing a gamble as a potential gain or loss biases people to make risk-averse or risk-seeking decisions, respectively. The canonical explanation for this effect is that frames differentially modulate emotional processes — which in turn leads to irrational choice behavior. Here, we evaluate the source of framing biases by integrating functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data from 143 human participants performing a gain/loss framing task with meta-analytic data from over 8000 neuroimaging studies. We found that activation during choices consistent with the framing effect were most correlated with activation associated with the resting or default brain, while activation during choices inconsistent with the framing effect most correlated with the task-engaged brain. Our findings argue against the common interpretation of gain/loss framing as a competition between emotion and control. Instead, our study indicates that this effect results from differential cognitive engagement across decision frames.

Significance Statement:

The biases frequently exhibited by human decision-makers have often been attributed to the presence of emotion. Using a large fMRI sample and analysis of whole-brain networks defined with the meta-analytic tool Neurosynth, we find that neural activity during frame-biased decisions are more significantly associated with default behaviors (and the absence of executive control) than with emotion. These findings point to a role for neuroscience in shaping longstanding psychological theories in decision science.

Suggested Citation

Li, Rosa and Smith, David and Clithero, John A. and Venkatraman, Vinod and Carter, R. McKell and Huettel, Scott, Reason's Enemy Is Not Emotion: Engagement of Cognitive Control Networks Explains Biases in Gain/Loss Framing (March 6, 2017). J Neurosci. 2017 Mar 6, p. 3486-16; DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3486-16.2017; Fox School of Business Research Paper No. 17-010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2929709

Rosa Li

Duke University - Department of Psychology and Neuroscience ( email )

Durham, NC 27708
United States

David Smith

Temple University - Department of Psychology ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

John A. Clithero

Lundquist College of Business, University of Oregon ( email )

Lundquist College of Business
1208 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403
United States

Vinod Venkatraman

Temple University - Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

Temple University - Decision Neuroscience ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

R. McKell Carter

University of Colorado Boulder ( email )

1070 Edinboro Drive
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

Scott Huettel (Contact Author)

Duke University - Department of Psychology and Neuroscience ( email )

Durham, NC 27708
United States

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