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PLoS One. 2013 Jun 6;8(6):e65274. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0065274. Print 2013.

Agency modulates the lateral and medial prefrontal cortex responses in belief-based decision making.

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National Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China.


Many real-life decisions in complex and changing environments are guided by the decision maker's beliefs, such as her perceived control over decision outcomes (i.e., agency), leading to phenomena like the "illusion of control". However, the neural mechanisms underlying the "agency" effect on belief-based decisions are not well understood. Using functional imaging and a card guessing game, we revealed that the agency manipulation (i.e., either asking the subjects (SG) or the computer (CG) to guess the location of the winning card) not only affected the size of subjects' bets, but also their "world model" regarding the outcome dependency. Functional imaging results revealed that the decision-related activation in the lateral and medial prefrontal cortex (PFC) was significantly modulated by agency and previous outcome. Specifically, these PFC regions showed stronger activation when subjects made decisions after losses than after wins under the CG condition, but the pattern was reversed under the SG condition. Furthermore, subjects with high external attribution of negative events were more affected by agency at the behavioral and neural levels. These results suggest that the prefrontal decision-making system can be modulated by abstract beliefs, and are thus vulnerable to factors such as false agency and attribution.

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