The mechanisms that govern human learning and decision making under uncertainty have been the focus of intense behavioral and, more recently, neuroscientific investigation. Substantial progress has been made in building models of the processes involved, and identifying underlying neural mechanisms using simple, two-alternative forced choice decision tasks. However, less attention has been given to how social information influences these processes, and the neural systems that mediate this influence. Here we sought to address these questions by using tasks similar to ones that have been used to study individual decision making behavior, and adding conditions in which participants were given trial-by-trial information about the performance of other individuals (their choices and/or their rewards) simultaneously playing the same tasks. We asked two questions: How does such information about the behavior of others influence performance in otherwise simple decision tasks, and what neural systems mediate this influence? We found that bilateral insula exhibited a parametric relationship to the degree of misalignment of the individual's performance with those of others in the group. Furthermore, activity in the bilateral insula significantly predicted participants' subsequent choices to align their behavior with others in the group when they were misaligned either in their choices (independent of success) or their degree of success (independent of specific choices). These findings add to the growing body of empirical data suggesting that the insula participates in an important way in social information processing and decision making.
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