An fMRI study of decision-making under sunk costs in gambling disorder (2018)

Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2018 Sep 19. pii: S0924-977X(18)30818-6. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2018.09.006.

Fujino J1, Kawada R2, Tsurumi K2, Takeuchi H2, Murao T2, Takemura A2, Tei S3, Murai T2, Takahashi H4.


The sunk cost effect is the tendency to continue an investment, or take an action, even though it has higher future costs than benefits, if costs of time, money, or effort were previously incurred. This type of decision bias is pervasive in real life and has been studied in various disciplines. Previous studies and clinical observations suggest that decision-making under sunk costs is altered in gambling disorder (GD). However, the neural mechanisms of decision-making under sunk costs in GD remain largely unknown, and so is their association with the clinical characteristics of this patient group. Here, by combining functional magnetic resonance imaging and the task that demonstrated a clear example of the sunk cost effect, we investigated the neural correlates during decision-making under sunk costs in GD. We found no significant differences in the strength of the sunk cost effect between the GD and healthy control (HC) groups. However, the strength of the sunk cost effect in patients with GD showed a significant negative correlation with abstinence period and a marginally significant positive correlation with the duration of illness. We also found a reduction in the neural activation in the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex during decision-making under sunk costs for the GD group compared with the HC group. Furthermore, in patients with GD, the levels of activation in this area negatively correlated with the duration of illness. These findings have important clinical implications. This study will contribute to a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying altered decision-making abilities in GD.

KEYWORDS: Decision-making; Functional magnetic resonance imaging; Gambling disorder; Medial prefrontal cortex; Pathological gambling; Sunk cost effect

PMID: 30243683

DOI: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2018.09.006