Hard decisions shape the neural coding of preferences

Katharina Voigt, Carsten Murawski, Sebastian Speer, Stefan Bode*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Hard decisions between equally valued alternatives can result in preference changes, meaning that subsequent valuations for chosen items increase and decrease for rejected items. Previous research suggests that this phenomenon is a consequence of cognitive dissonance reduction after the decision, induced by the mismatch between initial preferences and decision outcomes. In contrast, this functional magnetic resonance imaging and eye-tracking study with male and female human participants found that preferences are already updated online during the process of decision-making. Preference changes were predicted from activity in left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and precuneus while making hard decisions. Fixation durations during this phase predicted both choice outcomes and subsequent preference changes. These preference adjustments became behaviorally relevant only for choices that were remembered and were in turn associated with hippocampus activity. Our results suggest that preferences evolve dynamically as decisions arise, potentially as a mechanism to prevent stalemate situations in underdetermined decision scenarios.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)718-726
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DE 140100350) to S.B. We thank Simon Lilburn and Jacob Paul for helpful discussions, and Sophia Bock, WilliamTurner, and Richard McIntyre for support with MRI data acquisition.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 the authors.


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