Choice overload reduces neural signatures of choice set value in dorsal striatum and anterior cingulate cortex

Authors: Elena Reutskaja, Rosemarie Nagel and Colin F. Camerer

Nature Human Behaviour, Vol. 2, No 12, 925-935, October, 2018

Modern societies offer a large variety of choices, which is generally thought to be valuable. But having too much choice can be detrimental if the costs of choice outweigh its benefits due to ‘choice overload’. Current explanatory models of choice overload mainly derive from behavioural studies. A neuroscientific investigation could further inform these models by revealing the covert mental processes during decision-making. We explored choice overload using functional magnetic resonance imaging while subjects were either choosing from varying-sized choice sets or were browsing them. When choosing from sets of 6, 12 or 24 items, functional magnetic resonance imaging activity in the striatum and anterior cingulate cortex resembled an inverted U-shaped function of choice set size. Activity was highest for 12-item sets, which were perceived as having ‘the right amount’ of options and was lower for 6-item and 24-item sets, which were perceived as ‘too small’ and ‘too large’, respectively. Enhancing choice set value by adding a dominant option led to an overall increase of activity. When subjects were browsing, the decision costs were diminished and the inverted U-shaped activity patterns vanished. Activity in the striatum and anterior cingulate reflects choice set value and can serve as neural indicator of choice overload.