Neural reactivation links unconscious thought to decision-making performance.

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Abstract or Description

Brief periods of unconscious thought (UT) have been shown to improve decision making compared with making an immediate decision (ID). We reveal a neural mechanism for UT in decision making using blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging. Participants (N = 33) encoded information on a set of consumer products (e.g. 48 attributes describing four different cars), and we manipulated whether participants (i) consciously thought about this information (conscious thought), (ii) completed a difficult 2-back working memory task (UT) or (iii) made an immediate decision about the consumer products (ID) in a within-subjects blocked design. To differentiate UT neural activity from 2-back working memory neural activity, participants completed an independent 2-back task and this neural activity was subtracted from neural activity occurring during the UT 2-back task. Consistent with a neural reactivation account, we found that the same regions activated during the encoding of complex decision information (right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and left intermediate visual cortex) continued to be activated during a subsequent 2-min UT period. Moreover, neural reactivation in these regions was predictive of subsequent behavioral decision-making performance after the UT period. These results provide initial evidence for post-encoding unconscious neural reactivation in facilitating decision making.


Published In

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci, 8, 8, 863-869.