Neural correlates of wishful thinking

Aue, Tatjana; Nusbaum, Howard C; Cacioppo, John T (2012). Neural correlates of wishful thinking. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 7(8), pp. 991-1000. Oxford University Press 10.1093/scan/nsr081

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Wishful thinking (WT) implies the overestimation of the likelihood of desirable events. It occurs for outcomes of personal interest, but also for events of interest to others we like. We investigated whether WT is grounded on low-level selective attention or on higher level cognitive processes including differential weighting of evidence or response formation. Participants in our MRI study predicted the likelihood that their favorite or least favorite team would win a football game. Consistent with expectations, favorite team trials were characterized by higher winning odds. Our data demonstrated activity in a cluster comprising parts of the left inferior occipital and fusiform gyri to distinguish between favorite and least favorite team trials. More importantly, functional connectivities of this cluster with the human reward system were specifically involved in the type of WT investigated in our study, thus supporting the idea of an attention bias generating WT. Prefrontal cortex activity also distinguished between the two teams. However, activity in this region and its functional connectivities with the human reward system were altogether unrelated to the degree of WT reflected in the participants' behavior and may rather be related to social identification, ensuring the affective context necessary for WT to arise.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Psychological and Behavioral Health
07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology

UniBE Contributor:

Aue, Tatjana


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology
600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health
500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology




Oxford University Press


[UNSPECIFIED] National Institute of Mental Health ; [UNSPECIFIED] John Templeton FoundationJohn Templeton Foundation




Tatjana Aue

Date Deposited:

24 Aug 2015 11:20

Last Modified:

24 Oct 2019 14:17

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

cognitive bias; functional magnetic resonance imaging; psychophysiological interaction; selective attention




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