Two Frontal Brain Areas Seem to Contribute Specifically To Certain Decision-making
The option to choose among several courses of action is often associated with the feeling of being in control. Yet, in certain situations, one may prefer to decline such agency and instead leave the choice to someone else — out of politeness, or when too tired to choose, or when the consequences of the choice options appear complex or are unknown.
In a collaborative effort between the University of Amsterdam and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Birte Forstmann and colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine what happens in the brain when people are presented with the option either to determine their own course of action or to let someone else make the decision.
The Rostral Cingulate Zone
The new study suggests that two areas in the medial frontal cortex contribute specifically to these decision-making processes. A posterior region, the so-called rostral cingulate zone (RCZ), is engaged when conditions present most choice options. An anterior region, the so called Brodmann area 10, is engaged when the choice is completely ours, as well as when it is completely up to others to choose for us. Ultimately, they demonstrated that who is doing the deciding matters just as much as whether we have any options from which to choose.
The Brodmann area 10
PLoS One 3(4): e1899. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001899
When the Choice Is Ours: Context and Agency Modulate the Neural Bases of Decision-Making.
Forstmann BU, Wolfensteller U, Derrfuss J, Neumann J, Brass M, et al.
The option to choose between several courses of action is often associated with the feeling of being in control. Yet, in certain situations, one may prefer to decline such agency and instead leave the choice to others. In the present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, we provide evidence that the neural processes involved in decision-making are modulated not only by who controls our choice options (agency), but also by whether we have a say in who is in control (context). The fMRI results are noteworthy in that they reveal specific contributions of the anterior frontomedian cortex (viz. BA 10) and the rostral cingulate zone (RCZ) in decision-making processes. The RCZ is engaged when conditions clearly present us with the most choice options. BA 10 is engaged in particular when the choice is completely ours, as well as when it is completely up to others to choose for us which in turn gives rise to an attribution of control to oneself or someone else, respectively. After all, it does not only matter whether we have any options to choose from, but also who decides on that.