Background: Escalation of commitment is a common bias in human decision making. The present study examined (1) differences in neural recruitment for escalation and de-escalation decisions of prior investments, and (2) how the activation of these brain networks are modulated by two contextual/confounding factors: (i) responsibility, and (ii) framing of the success probabilities.
Results: Imaging data were obtained from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) applied to 29 participants. A whole-brain analysis was conducted to compare brain activations between conditions. ROI analysis, then, was used to examine if these significant activations were modulated by two contextual factors. Finally, mediation analysis was applied to explore how the contextual factors affect escalation decisions through brain activations. The findings showed that (1) escalation decisions are faster than de-escalation decisions, (2) the corresponding network of brain regions recruited for escalation (anterior cingulate cortex, insula and precuneus) decisions differs from this recruited for de-escalation decisions (inferior and superior frontal gyri), (3) the switch from escalation to de-escalation is primarily frontal gyri dependent, and (4) activation in the anterior cingulate cortex, insula and precuneus were further increased in escalation decisions, when the outcome probabilities of the follow-up investment were positively framed; and activation in the inferior and superior frontal gyri in de-escalation decisions were increased when the outcome probabilities were negatively framed.
Conclusions: Escalation and de-escalation decisions recruit different brain regions. Framing of possible outcomes as negative leads to escalation decisions through recruitment of the inferior frontal gyrus. Responsibility for decisions affects escalation decisions through recruitment of the superior (inferior) gyrus, when the decision is framed positively (negatively).