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Neuroimage. 2013 Apr 1;69:206-12. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.11.034. Epub 2012 Dec 11.

Neural mechanisms of dissonance: an fMRI investigation of choice justification.

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Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.


Cognitive dissonance theory proposes that difficult choice produces negatively arousing cognitive conflict (called dissonance), which motivates the chooser to justify her decision by increasing her preference for the chosen option while decreasing her preference for the rejected option. At present, however, neural mechanisms of dissonance are poorly understood. To address this gap of knowledge, we scanned 24 young Americans as they made 60 choices between pairs of popular music CDs. As predicted, choices between CDs that were close (vs. distant) in attractiveness (referred to as difficult vs. easy choices) resulted in activations of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), a brain region associated with cognitive conflict, and the left anterior insula (left aINS), a region often linked with aversive emotional arousal. Importantly, a separate analysis showed that choice-justifying attitude change was predicted by the in-choice signal intensity of the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), a region that is linked to self-processing. The three regions identified (dACC, left aINS, and PCC) were correlated, within-subjects, across choices. The results were interpreted to support the hypothesis that cognitive dissonance plays a key role in producing attitudes that justify the choice.

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