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Concept: Choice


Dogs are hypersocial with humans, and their integration into human social ecology makes dogs a unique model for studying cross-species social bonding. However, the proximal neural mechanisms driving dog-human social interaction are unknown. We used fMRI in 15 awake dogs to probe the neural basis for their preferences for social interaction and food reward. In a first experiment, we used the ventral caudate as a measure of intrinsic reward value and compared activation to conditioned stimuli that predicted food, praise, or nothing. Relative to the control stimulus, the caudate was significantly more active to the reward-predicting stimuli and showed roughly equal or greater activation to praise versus food in 13 of 15 dogs. To confirm that these differences were driven by the intrinsic value of social praise, we performed a second imaging experiment in which the praise was withheld on a subset of trials. The difference in caudate activation to the receipt of praise, relative to its withholding, was strongly correlated with the differential activation to the conditioned stimuli in the first experiment. In a third experiment, we performed an out-of-scanner choice task in which the dog repeatedly selected food or owner in a Y-maze. The relative caudate activation to food- and praise-predicting stimuli in Experiment 1 was a strong predictor of each dog’s sequence of choices in the Y-maze. Analogous to similar neuroimaging studies of individual differences in human social reward, our findings demonstrate a neural mechanism for preference in domestic dogs that is stable within, but variable between, individuals. Moreover, the individual differences in the caudate responses indicate the potentially higher value of social than food reward for some dogs and may help to explain the apparent efficacy of social interaction in dog training.

Concepts: Predation, Sociology, Motivation, Classical conditioning, Choice, Dog, Dog health, Microeconomics


Standard theories of decision-making involving delayed outcomes predict that people should defer a punishment, whilst advancing a reward. In some cases, such as pain, people seem to prefer to expedite punishment, implying that its anticipation carries a cost, often conceptualized as ‘dread’. Despite empirical support for the existence of dread, whether and how it depends on prospective delay is unknown. Furthermore, it is unclear whether dread represents a stable component of value, or is modulated by biases such as framing effects. Here, we examine choices made between different numbers of painful shocks to be delivered faithfully at different time points up to 15 minutes in the future, as well as choices between hypothetical painful dental appointments at time points of up to approximately eight months in the future, to test alternative models for how future pain is disvalued. We show that future pain initially becomes increasingly aversive with increasing delay, but does so at a decreasing rate. This is consistent with a value model in which moment-by-moment dread increases up to the time of expected pain, such that dread becomes equivalent to the discounted expectation of pain. For a minority of individuals pain has maximum negative value at intermediate delay, suggesting that the dread function may itself be prospectively discounted in time. Framing an outcome as relief reduces the overall preference to expedite pain, which can be parameterized by reducing the rate of the dread-discounting function. Our data support an account of disvaluation for primary punishments such as pain, which differs fundamentally from existing models applied to financial punishments, in which dread exerts a powerful but time-dependent influence over choice.

Concepts: Time, Scientific method, Prediction, Future, Sociology, Choice, Preference, Suffering


Tens of millions of people are currently choosing health coverage on a state or federal health insurance exchange as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. We examine how well people make these choices, how well they think they do, and what can be done to improve these choices. We conducted 6 experiments asking people to choose the most cost-effective policy using websites modeled on current exchanges. Our results suggest there is significant room for improvement. Without interventions, respondents perform at near chance levels and show a significant bias, overweighting out-of-pocket expenses and deductibles. Financial incentives do not improve performance, and decision-makers do not realize that they are performing poorly. However, performance can be improved quite markedly by providing calculation aids, and by choosing a “smart” default. Implementing these psychologically based principles could save purchasers of policies and taxpayers approximately 10 billion dollars every year.

Concepts: Health insurance, Improve, Decision theory, Thought, Performance, Choice, Finance, Choice architecture


How much do our choices represent stable inner preferences versus social conformity? We examine conformity and consistency in sartorial choices surrounding a common life event of new norm exposure: relocation. A large-scale dataset of individual purchases of women’s shoes (16,236 transactions) across five years and 2,007 women reveals a balance of conformity and consistency, moderated by changes in location socioeconomic status. Women conform to new local norms (i.e., average heel size) when moving to relatively higher status locations, but mostly ignore new local norms when moving to relatively lower status locations. In short, at periods of transition, it is the fashion norms of the rich that trickle down to consumers. These analyses provide the first naturalistic large-scale demonstration of the tension between psychological conformity and consistency, with real decisions in a highly visible context.

Concepts: Socioeconomic status, Sociology, Choice, Preference, Social status, Consumer theory, Conformity


Male mate choice might be based on both absolute and relative strategies. Cues of female attractiveness are thus likely to reflect both fitness and reproductive potential, as well as compatibility with particular male phenotypes. In humans, absolute clues of fertility and indices of favorable developmental stability are generally associated with increased women’s attractiveness. However, why men exhibit variable preferences remains less studied. Male mate choice might be influenced by uncertainty of paternity, a selective factor in species where the survival of the offspring depends on postnatal paternal care. For instance, in humans, a man might prefer a woman with recessive traits, thereby increasing the probability that his paternal traits will be visible in the child and ensuring paternity. Alternatively, attractiveness is hypothesized to be driven by self-resembling features (homogamy), which would reduce outbreeding depression. These hypotheses have been simultaneously evaluated for various facial traits using both real and artificial facial stimuli. The predicted preferences were then compared to realized mate choices using facial pictures from couples with at least 1 child. No evidence was found to support the paternity uncertainty hypothesis, as recessive features were not preferred by male raters. Conversely, preferences for self-resembling mates were found for several facial traits (hair and eye color, chin dimple, and thickness of lips and eyebrows). Moreover, realized homogamy for facial traits was also found in a sample of long-term mates. The advantages of homogamy in evolutionary terms are discussed.

Concepts: Scientific method, Reproduction, Female, Hypothesis, Choice, Preference, Utility, Facial features


Choices not only reflect our preference, but they also affect our behavior. The phenomenon of choice-induced preference change has been of interest to cognitive dissonance researchers in social psychology, and more recently, it has attracted the attention of researchers in economics and neuroscience. Preference modulation after the mere act of making a choice has been repeatedly demonstrated over the last 50 years by an experimental paradigm called the “free-choice paradigm.” However, Chen and Risen (2010) pointed out a serious methodological flaw in this paradigm, arguing that evidence for choice-induced preference change is still insufficient. Despite the flaw, studies using the traditional free-choice paradigm continue to be published without addressing the criticism. Here, aiming to draw more attention to this issue, we briefly explain the methodological problem, and then describe simple simulation studies that illustrate how the free-choice paradigm produces a systematic pattern of preference change consistent with cognitive dissonance, even without any change in true preference. Our stimulation also shows how a different level of noise in each phase of the free-choice paradigm independently contributes to the magnitude of artificial preference change. Furthermore, we review ways of addressing the critique and provide a meta-analysis to show the effect size of choice-induced preference change after addressing the critique. Finally, we review and discuss, based on the results of the stimulation studies, how the criticism affects our interpretation of past findings generated from the free-choice paradigm. We conclude that the use of the conventional free-choice paradigm should be avoided in future research and the validity of past findings from studies using this paradigm should be empirically re-established.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Affect, Effect size, Meta-analysis, Cognitive dissonance, Choice, Social psychology


We often make decisions with uncertain consequences. The outcomes of the choices we make are usually not perfectly predictable but probabilistic, and the probabilities can be known or unknown. Probability judgments, i.e., the assessment of unknown probabilities, can be influenced by evoked emotional states. This suggests that also the weighting of known probabilities in decision making under risk might be influenced by incidental emotions, i.e., emotions unrelated to the judgments and decisions at issue. Probability weighting describes the transformation of probabilities into subjective decision weights for outcomes and is one of the central components of cumulative prospect theory (CPT) that determine risk attitudes. We hypothesized that music-evoked emotions would modulate risk attitudes in the gain domain and in particular probability weighting. Our experiment featured a within-subject design consisting of four conditions in separate sessions. In each condition, the 41 participants listened to a different kind of music-happy, sad, or no music, or sequences of random tones-and performed a repeated pairwise lottery choice task. We found that participants chose the riskier lotteries significantly more often in the “happy” than in the “sad” and “random tones” conditions. Via structural regressions based on CPT, we found that the observed changes in participants' choices can be attributed to changes in the elevation parameter of the probability weighting function: in the “happy” condition, participants showed significantly higher decision weights associated with the larger payoffs than in the “sad” and “random tones” conditions. Moreover, elevation correlated positively with self-reported music-evoked happiness. Thus, our experimental results provide evidence in favor of a causal effect of incidental happiness on risk attitudes that can be explained by changes in probability weighting.

Concepts: Decision making, Risk, Decision theory, Probability theory, Probability, Theory, Choice, Prospect theory


The dorsal aspect of the hallux is often cited as the anatomic location of choice for vibration testing in the feet of diabetic patients. To validate this preference, vibration tests were performed and compared at the hallux and 5th metatarsal head in diabetic patients with established neuropathy.

Concepts: Foot, Choice, Vibration, Software testing


People frequently change their preferences for options of gambles which they play once compared to those they play multiple times. In general, preferences for repeated play gambles are more consistent with the expected values of the options. According to the one-process view, the change in preference is due to a change in the structure of the gamble that is relevant to decision making. According to the two-process view, the change is attributable to a shift in the decision making strategy that is used. To adjudicate between these two theories, we asked participants to choose between gambles played once or 100 times, and to choose between them based on their expected value. Consistent with the two-process theory, we found a set of brain regions that were sensitive to the extent of behavioral change between single and aggregated play and also showed significant (de)activation in the expected value choice task. These results support the view that people change their decision making strategies for risky choice considered once or multiple times.

Concepts: Risk, Decision theory, Choice, Preference, Expected value


Selecting appropriate foods is a complex and evolutionarily ancient problem, yet past studies have revealed little evidence of adaptations present in infancy that support sophisticated reasoning about perceptual properties of food. We propose that humans have an early-emerging system for reasoning about the social nature of food selection. Specifically, infants' reasoning about food choice is tied to their thinking about agents' intentions and social relationships. Whereas infants do not expect people to like the same objects, infants view food preferences as meaningfully shared across individuals. Infants' reasoning about food preferences is fundamentally social: They generalize food preferences across individuals who affiliate, or who speak a common language, but not across individuals who socially disengage or who speak different languages. Importantly, infants' reasoning about food preferences is flexibly calibrated to their own experiences: Tests of bilingual babies reveal that an infant’s sociolinguistic background influences whether she will constrain her generalization of food preferences to people who speak the same language. Additionally, infants' systems for reasoning about food is differentially responsive to positive and negative information. Infants generalize information about food disgust across all people, regardless of those people’s social identities. Thus, whereas food preferences are seen as embedded within social groups, disgust is interpreted as socially universal, which could help infants avoid potentially dangerous foods. These studies reveal an early-emerging system for thinking about food that incorporates social reasoning about agents and their relationships, and allows infants to make abstract, flexible, adaptive inferences to interpret others' food choices.

Concepts: Infant, Natural selection, Sociology, Cognition, Thought, Logic, Reasoning, Choice