October 09, 2008
Risk Appetite Measurable With Brain Scans

Imagine employers scanning people's brains to choose more or less risk averse depending on job needs. Functional magnetic resonance imaging allows identification of more and less risk tolerant people.

That familiar pull between the promise of victory and the dread of defeat whether in money, love or sport is rooted in the brain's architecture, according to a new imaging study.

Neuroscientists at the USC Brain and Creativity Institute have identified distinct brain regions with competing responses to risk.

Both regions are located in the prefrontal cortex, an area behind the forehead involved in analysis and planning.

By giving volunteers a task that measures risk tolerance and observing their reactions with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers found that activity in one region identified risk-averse volunteers, while activity in a different region was greater in those with an appetite for risk.

The study appeared online Oct. 8 in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

"We can see risk as a battle between two forces," said Antoine Bechara, professor of psychology at USC. "There is always a lure of reward. There's always a fear of failure. These are the two forces that are always battling each other."

What will be even more interesting: A way to dial one's risk aversion up or down. Of course, if someone dialed their own risk enjoyment way way down they'd probably keep it low due to the risk aversion that would accompany the low setting on the knob. Some types of brain engineering will cause people to strongly prefer some states of mind. So brain engineering will tend to push populations toward the personality types that will most resist change.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 October 09 11:30 PM  Brain Economics

OneEyedMan said at October 10, 2008 7:40 AM:

Given that the Allais paradox shows that for most people no uniformly consistent risk aversion measure exists, I wonder exactly what it is they measure here.

suzie said at October 20, 2008 11:24 AM:

Would be interesting to know the dopamine correlates for these studies. Risk/Reward: ADHD, addictive types, '7s'

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