Nav: Home

Sticking with the wrong choice

July 13, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS, MN- July 13, 2018- The behavior of people who remain committed to a choice, even when it is clear that an alternate choice would be a better option, has been a perplexing phenomenon to psychologists and economists. For example, people will continue to wait in the slow line at a grocery store, stick out an unhealthy relationship, or refuse to abandon an expensive, wasteful project - all because such individuals have already invested time, effort, or money. This well-known cognitive phenomenon termed the "sunk cost fallacy" has long been considered a problem unique to humans. New research has discovered that humans are not the only species that share these economically irrational flaws.

New research from the University of Minnesota published in the journal Science discovered that mice, rats, and humans all commit the sunk cost fallacy.

"The key to this research was that all three species learned to play the same economic game," says Brian Sweis, the paper's lead author, an MD/PhD student at the University of Minnesota. Mice and rats spent time from a limited budget foraging for flavored food pieces while humans similarly spent a limited time budget foraging for what humans these days seek - entertaining videos on the web.

Rats and mice ran around a maze that contained four food-delivery-locations ("restaurants"). On entry into each restaurant, the animal was informed of how long it would be before food would be delivered by an auditory tone. They had one hour to gather food and thus each entry meant they had to answer a question like, "Am I willing to spend 20 seconds from my time budget waiting for my cherry-flavored food pellet?" with a delay lasting anywhere from 1 to 30 seconds.

Similarly, humans saw a series of web galleries and were informed of the delay by a download bar. This meant humans had to answer an equivalent question: "Am I willing to spend 20 seconds from my time budget waiting for my kitten video?" In this way, each subject from each species revealed their own subjective preferences for individual food flavors or video galleries.

In this task, every entry required two decisions, a first decision when the delay was revealed, but did not count down, and then a second decision if the offer was accepted when subjects could quit and change their minds during the countdown. Remarkably, the authors found that all three species become more reluctant to quit the longer they waited - demonstrating the sunk cost fallacy.

Strikingly, subjects hesitated before accepting or rejecting offers during the initial decision before the countdown. "It's as if they knew they didn't want to get in line until they were sure," says Sweis. Even more surprising, neither mice, rats, nor humans took into account the sunk costs spent while deliberating. This suggests that the process of deliberation and the process of changing one's mind after an initial commitment depend on different economic factors, and that these factors are conserved across species.

"This project depended on the collaborative nature of science today," says senior author David Redish, a professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School's Neuroscience Department. "This was a collaboration between three laboratories and required working back and forth to ensure that we could ask similar questions across different species on these parallel tasks."

As such, this project builds on a number of breakthrough discoveries recently published by these laboratories, which find that mice, rats, and humans use similar neural systems to make these different types of decisions, that mice and rats also show regret after making mistakes, and that even mice can learn to avoid those mistakes by deliberating first, as revealed in a recent paper by these authors in PLOS Biology.

"These tasks reveal complex decision processes underlying the conflict between really wanting something on the one hand versus knowing better on the other," says Sweis.

"This is a conflict between different neural decision systems, and that means we can separately manipulate those systems," says Redish.

In other publications recently appearing in Nature Communications and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, these authors have found that both the effect of different drugs (cocaine, morphine) and different changes to neural circuits affect these two systems differently, which suggests that different forms of addiction would likely benefit from individualized treatments tailored to dysfunctions in distinct brain circuits.

"Decisions depend on neural circuits, which means that manipulating those circuits changes the decision process," says Mark Thomas, another of the study's senior authors and a professor in the Medical School's Neuroscience Department.

"There was a day when we asked ourselves, 'Rats forage for food, what do undergrads forage for?'" remembers author Samantha Abram, now a postdoctoral psychology fellow at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, who led the human component as a graduate student in the University of Minnesota Clinical Science and Psychopathology Research Program with her advisor Angus MacDonald, a professor in the Psychology Department of the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts.

By having all three species play the same economic game, these authors have revealed a new insight into how different parts of the brain make different types of decisions and that there is an evolutionary history to the flaws that make us human.
-end-
About the University of Minnesota Medical School

The University of Minnesota Medical School is at the forefront of learning and discovery, transforming medical care and educating the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and faculty produce high-impact biomedical research and advance the practice of medicine. Visit med.umn.edu to learn how the University of Minnesota is innovating all aspects of medicine.

University of Minnesota Medical School

Related Neural Circuits Articles:

Stopping the brain's memory circuits from overheating
In the absence of CA2 activity, mice experience epilepsy-like activity, a sign that this area is essential for regulating the balance of excitation and inhibition in the brain.
Human forebrain circuits under construction -- in a dish
Neuroscientists have created a 3-D window into the human brain's budding executive hub assembling itself during a critical period in prenatal development.
Computing with biochemical circuits made easy
A software tool and a systematic wet-lab procedure proven in practice are an advance in the design and construction of circuits made of DNA.
Nano-chimneys can cool circuits
Rice University researchers show that tweaking graphene to place cones between it and nanotubes grown from its surface would form 'nano-chimneys' that help heat escape.
Neural circuits underlying fly larval locomotion
In recent decades, larval fruit flies have generally been considered as a promising model to examine neural locomotor circuits.
Stuttering related to brain circuits that control speech production
Researchers at Children's Hospital Los Angeles have conducted the first study of its kind, using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy to look at brain regions in both adults and children who stutter.
Max Planck Florida's Sunposium 2017 Neural Circuits Conference
Sunposiumâ„¢ 2017, MPFI's biennial neural circuits conference, will be held February 13-14, 2017 at Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach Florida.
NIH awards $2.4 million to MPFI scientist to investigate role of astrocytes in neural circuits
Dr. James Schummers, Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, has been awarded a $2.4 million five-year grant from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health to study the properties of astrocytes, a prominent non-neuronal cell type in the brain, and what role they play in neural circuit function.
Study identifies neural circuits involved in making risky decisions
New research sheds light on what's going on inside our heads as we decide whether to take a risk or play it safe.
Ultra-flat circuits will have unique properties
Theoretical physicists at Rice University analyzed the electronic consequences of creating circuits in two dimensions by simulating the juxtaposition of different atom-thick materials like graphene and hexagonal boron nitride.

Related Neural Circuits Reading:

Stahl's Illustrated Violence: Neural Circuits, Genetics and Treatment
by Stephen M. Stahl (Author), Debbi Ann Morrissette (Assistant)

Brain Theory From A Circuits And Systems Perspective: How Electrical Science Explains Neuro-circuits, Neuro-systems, and Qubits (Springer Series in Cognitive and Neural Systems)
by John Robert Burger (Author)

Circuits of the Mind
by Leslie G. Valiant (Author)

Neural Circuit Development and Function in the Healthy and Diseased Brain: Comprehensive Developmental Neuroscience
by Academic Press

Embedded Deep Learning: Algorithms, Architectures and Circuits for Always-on Neural Network Processing
by Bert Moons (Author), Daniel Bankman (Author), Marian Verhelst (Author)

Circuit Complexity and Neural Networks (Foundations of Computing)
by Ian Parberry (Author), Michael R. Garey (Series Editor), Albert Meyer (Series Editor)

Corticonics: Neural Circuits of the Cerebral Cortex
by M. Abeles (Author)

Goal-Directed Decision Making: Computations and Neural Circuits
by Richard W. Morris (Editor), Aaron Bornstein (Editor), Amitai Shenhav (Editor)

Principles of Artificial Neural Networks (Advanced Series in Circuits and Systems)
by Daniel Graupe (Author)

The Anatomy of Bias: How Neural Circuits Weigh the Options (The MIT Press)
by Jan Lauwereyns (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Circular
We're told if the economy is growing, and if we keep producing, that's a good thing. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers explore circular systems that regenerate and re-use what we already have. Guests include economist Kate Raworth, environmental activist Tristram Stuart, landscape architect Kate Orff, entrepreneur David Katz, and graphic designer Jessi Arrington.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#504 The Art of Logic
How can mathematics help us have better arguments? This week we spend the hour with "The Art of Logic in an Illogical World" author, mathematician Eugenia Cheng, as she makes her case that the logic of mathematics can combine with emotional resonance to allow us to have better debates and arguments. Along the way we learn a lot about rigorous logic using arguments you're probably having every day, while also learning a lot about our own underlying beliefs and assumptions.