Overcoming status quo bias in the human brain.
Fleming SM., Thomas CL., Dolan RJ.
Humans often accept the status quo when faced with conflicting choice alternatives. However, it is unknown how neural pathways connecting cognition with action modulate this status quo acceptance. Here we developed a visual detection task in which subjects tended to favor the default when making difficult, but not easy, decisions. This bias was suboptimal in that more errors were made when the default was accepted. A selective increase in subthalamic nucleus (STN) activity was found when the status quo was rejected in the face of heightened decision difficulty. Analysis of effective connectivity showed that inferior frontal cortex, a region more active for difficult decisions, exerted an enhanced modulatory influence on the STN during switches away from the status quo. These data suggest that the neural circuits required to initiate controlled, nondefault actions are similar to those previously shown to mediate outright response suppression. We conclude that specific prefrontal-basal ganglia dynamics are involved in rejecting the default, a mechanism that may be important in a range of difficult choice scenarios.