The neural basis for establishing a focal point in pure coordination games

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When making a decision, humans often have to ‘coordinate’—reach the same conclusion—as another individual without explicitly communicating. Relatively, little is known about the neural basis for coordination. Moreover, previous fMRI investigations have supported conflicting hypotheses. One account proposes that individuals coordinate using a ‘gut feeling’ and that this is supported by insula recruitment. Another account proposes that individuals recruit strategic decision-making mechanisms in prefrontal cortex in order to coordinate. We investigate the neural basis for coordination in individuals with behavioral-variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) who have limitations in social decision-making associated with disease in prefrontal cortex. We demonstrate that bvFTD are impaired at establishing a focal point in a semantic task (e.g. ‘Tell me any boy's name’) that requires coordination relative to a similar, control semantic task that does not. Additionally, coordination limitations in bvFTD are related to cortical thinning in prefrontal cortex. These findings are consistent with behavioral economic models proposing that, beyond a ‘gut feeling’, strategic decision-making contributes to the coordination process, including a probabilistic mechanism that evaluates the salience of a response (e.g. is ‘John’ a frequent boy's name), a hierarchical mechanism that iteratively models an opponent's likely response and a mechanism involved in social perspective taking.

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