In the classic gain/loss framing effect, describing a gamble as a potential gain or loss biases people to make risk-averse or risk-seeking decisions, respectively. The canonical explanation for this effect is that frames differentially modulate emotional processes, which in turn leads to irrational choice behavior. Here, we evaluate the source of framing biases by integrating functional magnetic resonance imaging data from 143 human participants performing a gain/loss framing task with meta-analytic data from >8000 neuroimaging studies. We found that activation during choices consistent with the framing effect were most correlated with activation associated with the resting or default brain, while activation during choices inconsistent with the framing effect was most correlated with the task-engaged brain. Our findings argue against the common interpretation of gain/loss framing as a competition between emotion and control. Instead, our study indicates that this effect results from differential cognitive engagement across decision frames.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The biases frequently exhibited by human decision makers have often been attributed to the presence of emotion. Using a large fMRI sample and analysis of whole-brain networks defined with the meta-analytic tool Neurosynth, we find that neural activity during frame-biased decisions was more significantly associated with default behaviors (and the absence of executive control) than with emotion. These findings point to a role for neuroscience in shaping long-standing psychological theories in decision science.