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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2011 Sep;6(4):460-7. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsq054. Epub 2010 Jul 9.

The neural basis of rationalization: cognitive dissonance reduction during decision-making.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90025, USA.


People rationalize the choices they make when confronted with difficult decisions by claiming they never wanted the option they did not choose. Behavioral studies on cognitive dissonance provide evidence for decision-induced attitude change, but these studies cannot fully uncover the mechanisms driving the attitude change because only pre- and post-decision attitudes are measured, rather than the process of change itself. In the first fMRI study to examine the decision phase in a decision-based cognitive dissonance paradigm, we observed that increased activity in right-inferior frontal gyrus, medial fronto-parietal regions and ventral striatum, and decreased activity in anterior insula were associated with subsequent decision-related attitude change. These findings suggest the characteristic rationalization processes that are associated with decision-making may be engaged very quickly at the moment of the decision, without extended deliberation and may involve reappraisal-like emotion regulation processes.

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