Some people live their lives by the motto "no risk - no fun!" and avoid hardly any risks. Others are clearly more cautious and focus primarily on safety when investing and for other business activities. Scientists from the University of Bonn in cooperation with colleagues from the University of Zurich studied the attitudes towards risk in a group of 56 subjects. They found that in people who preferred safety, certain regions of the brain show a higher level of activation when they are confronted with quite unforeseeable situations. In addition, they do not distinguish as clearly as risk takers whether a situation is more or less risky than expected. The results have just been published in the renowned "Journal of Neuroscience."
"We were especially interested in the link between risk preferences and the brain regions processing this information," says Prof. Dr. Bernd Weber from the Center for Economics and Neuroscience (CENs) at the University of Bonn. First, the researchers tested a total of 56 subjects for their willingness to take risks. "In an economic game, the test subjects had a choice between a secured payout and a lottery," reports Sarah Rudorf from CENs, the study's principal author. Those who showed a strong preference for the lottery in this test were categorized as risk takers. Others preferred the secured payout even if the lottery's odds of winning were clearly better. They were put in the risk-averse group.
In risk-averse individuals, certain regions of the brain are activated more strongly
Then the test subjects played a card game in a brain scanner to study their risk perception. Cards carrying numbers from one to ten were shown on the video glasses in front of their eyes. Each time, two cards were randomly drawn. Before the subjects were shown the cards, they were asked to place bets on whether the second card would have a higher or a lower number than the first one. "The statistical probability for either case to occur is always the same: fifty-fifty," says Prof. Weber. "This is important so that all subjects, whether they are risk takers or not, experience risky situations inside the scanner." They were not able to assess their probability of winning their bet until they saw the first card. Here, the researchers found that in the subjects who tended to avoid risks, two specific regions of the brain were activated more strongly than in those who were willing to take risks. These areas are the ventral striatum and the insular cortex. The ventral striatum reacts both to the probability of winning, as well as to how well an individual can predict the outcome of the bet. The insular cortex is particularly sensitive to the risk a situation carries, and for whether it is higher or lower than anticipated.
Risk seekers adjust their strategy after lucky streaks
Sarah Rudorf summarized the results, "Individuals in whom these regions of the brain are activated at a higher level seem to perceive risks more clearly and assess them as more negative than those who are willing to take risks." Risk-averse individuals seem to overestimate the consequences of risk, and they did not distinguish as clearly between situations that turned out to be more or less risky than expected. In contrast, the test subjects who tended to take greater risks also focused their behavior more towards the wins and losses, and more clearly changed their strategy after negative situations.
Study is first to show the neurobiological mechanisms
"This study is the first to show the neurobiological mechanisms of how individual risk preferences determine risk perception," says Prof. Weber. "This also has effects on behavior in the areas of finance and health."
In a next step, the researchers want to study the consequences these results have on economic decisions such as in the stock market. "This might even allow improving the advising process for investors with regard to their individual risk behavior," says Prof. Weber. And he considers health another important area. Smokers know that what they do is very dangerous, and yet they smoke. "If we learned more about smokers' attitudes towards risk, we might be able to provide information for developing better anti-smoking campaigns."
Neural Correlates of Anticipation Risk Reflect Risk Preferences, Journal of Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4235-11.2012
University of Bonn: http://www.uni-bonn.de
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Corals stir up the water, creating vortices that draw in nutrients and drive away waste, research reveals.
The "gold bowl of Hasanlu" and three skeletons were excavated from beneath a burned building in an ancient Iranian citadel – now we know the full story
Study of engravings in Gibraltar cave could be final nail in the coffin of hypothesis that Neanderthals were cognitively inferior to modern humans
Claims that Ai Hin was faking pregnancy to get better treatment have been debunked by leading panda expert
The recent release of Susan Greenfields new book and the film Lucy, both of which are dependent on tired misconceptions or dubious theories about the brain, suggest one worrying conclusion: we are running out of myths about the brain. So here are some new ones, to keep things mysterious
These are the siphonophores, some 180 known species of gelatinous strings that can grow to 100 feet long, making them some of the longest critters on the planet. But instead of growing as a single body like virtually every other animal, siphonophores clone themselves thousands of times over into half a dozen different types of specialized cloned bodies, all strung together to work as a team---a very deadly team at that.
Researchers who study memory have had a thrilling couple of years. Some have erased memories in people with electroshock therapy, for example. Others have figured out, in mice, how to create false memories and even turn bad memories into good ones.
Hunting bats don't just listen out for male frogs' mating calls: they can also use echolocation to detect when the frogs inflate their throat sacs
A crèche of 30 dinosaur infants looked over by an older animal shows that even terrible lizards needed a night away from the kids
Families have identifiable collections of microbes that travel with them. It can take just 24 hours for the microbes to take over a new house