Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
It has been proposed that choice utility exhibits an inverted U-shape as a function of the number of options in the choice set. However, most researchers have so far only focused on the “physically extant” number of options in the set while disregarding the more important psychological factor, the “subjective” number of options worth considering to choose—that is, the size of the consideration set. To explore this previously ignored aspect, we examined how variations in the size of a consideration set can produce different affective consequences after making choices and investigated the underlying neural mechanism using fMRI. After rating their preferences for art posters, participants made a choice from a presented set and then reported on their level of satisfaction with their choice and the level of difficulty experienced in choosing it. Our behavioral results demonstrated that enlarged assortment set can lead to greater choice satisfaction only when increases in both consideration set size and preference contrast are involved. Moreover, choice difficulty is determined based on the size of an individual's consideration set rather than on the size of the assortment set, and it decreases linearly as a function of the level of contrast among alternatives. The neuroimaging analysis of choice-making revealed that subjective consideration set size was encoded in the striatum, the dACC, and the insula. In addition, the striatum also represented variations in choice satisfaction resulting from alterations in the size of consideration sets, whereas a common neural specificity for choice difficulty and consideration set size was shown in the dACC. These results have theoretical and practical importance in that it is one of the first studies investigating the influence of the psychological attributes of choice sets on the value-based decision-making process.