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Keywords:

  • ambidexterity;
  • attentional control;
  • decision-making;
  • exploration-exploitation;
  • functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)

This paper studies the cognitive processes that enable decision makers to switch between exploitation and exploration. We use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in a sample of expert decision makers to make two main contributions. First, we identify and contrast the specific brain regions and cognitive processes associated with exploitation and exploration decisions. Exploitation activates regions associated with reward seeking, which track and evaluate the value of current choices, while exploration relies on regions associated with attentional control, tracking the value of alternative choices. Second, we propose and test the idea that stronger activation of the brain circuits related to attentional control allows individuals to achieve better decision-making performance as a result. We discuss the implications of these results for strategic management research and practice. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd