Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Genetic Make-up Influences Biased Economic Decision-making, Study Shows

Date:
May 11, 2009
Source:
Wellcome Trust
Summary:
How would you respond if you were told that you had an 80 percent chance of surviving an operation -- would you give consent? How about if you were told you had a 20 percent chance of dying? The answer may partly depend on your genetic make-up, according to new research.

How would you respond if you were told that you had an 80% chance of surviving an operation – would you give consent? How about if you were told you had a 20% chance of dying? The answer may partly depend on your genetic make-up, according to new research from UCL (University College London) and funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Related Articles


Decision-making is a complex process, particularly when we are uncertain about outcomes. This makes decisions open to influence depending on whether the options are phrased positively or negatively, known as the "framing effect".

Previous research from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL suggested that the amygdala, an area of the brain known to be involved in processing emotions, becomes active during decisions influenced by the framing effect. Now, in a study published today in the Journal of Neuroscience, UCL researchers have shown that a person's susceptibility to the framing effect – and the response of their amygdala – appears to be at least partially influenced by their genetic make-up.

"We know that people from across a variety of cultures are susceptible to biases when making decisions, and that even with training these biases are hard to overcome," says Dr Jonathan Roiser from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. "This implies that hard-wired genetic influences might play an important role in determining how susceptible different individuals are to the framing effect."

In this new study, Dr Roiser and colleagues showed that decision-making is affected by variation in the serotonin transporter gene, at a region known as the 5-HTTLPR, which has previously been reported to affect the response of the amygdala. The gene is involved in the recycling of serotonin, a neurotransmitter essential for communication between nerve cells. The researchers investigated two common variants of this gene, known as the "short" and "long" versions. The researchers selected thirty healthy volunteers carrying either a pair of short variants or a pair of long variants.

Participants in the study performed a task involving deciding whether or not to gamble with a sum of money. For example, they would be given 50 and be presented with two options: option A was to keep 20 for sure, while option B was to gamble, with a forty per cent chance of keeping the full 50 and a sixty per cent chance of losing everything. This version was known as the "gain frame".

At other times, the participants were presented with exactly the same decision, but framed differently – the "loss frame". The only difference was that option A was phrased in terms of losing money. In other words, after being given 50, option A was to lose 30 of their initial amount for sure, while option B was the same gamble as above.

Despite option A representing an identical decision in the gain and loss frames – which all of the volunteers realised – the researchers found that both groups of participants were more likely to gamble if the first option was phrased in terms of losing rather than keeping money. The magnitude of this difference in gambling between the two frames essentially measures each volunteer's susceptibility to the framing effect. Critically, those participants with two copies of the short variant were considerably more susceptible to the framing effect.

"This doesn't mean that people with the short variants are risk takers," explains Dr Roiser. "In fact, they were risk averse in the 'gain frame' whilst risk seeking in the 'loss frame', which implies inconsistency in their decision-making."

Brain images taken while participants made their decisions revealed a mechanism underlying this difference in decision-making behaviour. Participants with two copies of the short genetic variant had greater amygdala responses than their counterparts when making decisions influenced by the frame effect.

The researchers also measured the degree of interaction, or connectivity, between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, the brain region most implicated in human intelligence, personality and decision making. When resisting the frame effect, the participants with two copies of the long variant had stronger connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and amygdala, while those with a pair of short variants did not.

"This difference in connectivity is really interesting," says Dr Roiser. "It suggests that the volunteers carrying the long variant might regulate automatic emotional responses, which are driven by the amygdala, more efficiently, lessening their vulnerability to the framing effect.

"This one gene cannot tell the whole story, however, as it only explains about ten per cent of the variability in susceptibility to the framing effect. What determines the other ninety per cent of variability is unclear. It is probably a mixture of people's life experience and other genetic influences.

"An interesting question would be whether the gene might affect real-life decision-making. For example, traders in banks need to make quick and accurate estimations of risk and consistent decisions, no matter how the information is presented to them. So you might hypothesise that traders with the long genetic variant would make more consistent decisions, though this needs to be tested in future research."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wellcome Trust. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Wellcome Trust. "Genetic Make-up Influences Biased Economic Decision-making, Study Shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 May 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090505174541.htm>.
Wellcome Trust. (2009, May 11). Genetic Make-up Influences Biased Economic Decision-making, Study Shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090505174541.htm
Wellcome Trust. "Genetic Make-up Influences Biased Economic Decision-making, Study Shows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090505174541.htm (accessed November 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, November 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Newsy (Nov. 20, 2014) Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found the more complex your job is, the sharper your cognitive skills will likely be as you age. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
100-Year-Old Woman Sees Ocean for First Time

100-Year-Old Woman Sees Ocean for First Time

AP (Nov. 20, 2014) Ruby Holt spent most of her 100 years on a farm in rural Tennessee, picking cotton and raising four children. She saw the ocean for the first time thanks to her assisted living center and a group that grants wishes to the elderly. (Nov. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins