Department of Psychology, University of Basel, 4055 Basel, Switzerland, Department of Higher Nervous Activity and Psychophysiology, Saint Petersburg State University199034, Saint Petersburg, Russia, and Department of Psychology, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia.
Informational cascades can occur when rationally acting individuals decide independently of their private information and follow the decisions of preceding decision-makers. In the process of updating beliefs, differences in the weighting of private and publicly available social information may modulate the probability that a cascade starts in a decisive way. By using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we examined neural activity while participants updated their beliefs based on the decisions of two fictitious stock market traders and their own private information, which led to a final decision of buying one of two stocks. Computational modeling of the behavioral data showed that a majority of participants overweighted private information. Overweighting was negatively correlated with the probability of starting an informational cascade in trials especially prone to conformity. Belief updating by private information was related to activity in the inferior frontal gyrus/anterior insula, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the parietal cortex; the more a participant overweighted private information, the higher the activity in the inferior frontal gyrus/anterior insula and the lower in the parietal-temporal cortex. This study explores the neural correlates of overweighting of private information, which underlies the tendency to start an informational cascade.