Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Brain Activation Can Predict Strategies People Use To Make Risky Decisions

Date:
May 28, 2009
Source:
Duke University Medical Center
Summary:
Watching people's brains in real time as they handle a set of decision-making problems can reveal how different each person's strategy can be, according to neuroscientists.

Watching people's brains in real time as they handle a set of decision-making problems can reveal how different each person's strategy can be, according to neuroscientists at the Duke University Medical Center.

"People in our study, like the population at large, differed in the strategies they use to make economic decisions," said Scott Huettel, Ph.D., co-director of the Duke Center for Neuroeconomic Studies and senior author of the study published in Neuron online on May 27. "What sort of strategy people tended to use could be predicted, surprisingly, by how their brain responded to rewards: if there were large responses to monetary reward in a brain area called the ventral striatum, that person tended to simplify decision problems to only consider winning or losing."

"Using studies like this to build a better understanding of how our brains represent our decision strategies may someday allow researchers to use someone's personal traits – say, an adolescent with high impulsivity, but ongoing depression – to predict the decisions that he or she will make," Huettel said. "This could lead to many real-world benefits: designing more effective interventions or creating more useful educational material."

Twenty-three participants were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) which reveals real-time changes in brain function as they evaluated complex multi-outcome lotteries. The problems involved real monetary gains and losses – something akin to the universe of factors that someone buying a car must consider, for example. When faced with each problem, the participant chose among ways to improve their lottery chances, such as reducing the worst possible loss.

This study was a collaboration between neuroscientists and decision making experts at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke.

"Our goal was to come up with a risky decision task that would both discriminate between alternative models of choice and represent something that often happens when people allocate scarce resources to make a risky choice more attractive," said John W. Payne, Ph.D., the Joseph J. Ruvane, Jr. Professor of Business. "It was also nice that the task is complex enough to relate to 'real-world' decisions but simple enough to be studied using functional MRI."

The study showed that the brain regions classically associated with "rational" processing, notably the lateral prefrontal cortex, were most active when subjects used a simplifying strategy inconsistent with traditional rational-choice models.

"This result suggests that it was the type of computation that the participants were doing at any given time that activates a brain region, not whether the thought process is rational or irrational," said lead author Vinod Venkatraman, from the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke.

The finding "argues strongly against the commonly held notion that there are 'rational' and 'irrational' parts of the brain,'" Huettel added.

The study also showed that the medial prefrontal region of the brain shapes moment-to-moment changes in the strategies people use to make decisions. "We all make some decisions opposite to our usual tendencies. When we do so, this brain region comes online and alters activation in other choice-related regions," Huettel said. "We previously knew that this part of the brain played an important role in simple sorts of behavioral control, but this research shows that it retains a switching role even during complex decision making."

"It's critical not to think of decision-making as just a competition between some rational and emotional parts of our brains," Huettel said. "Instead, the brain selectively enlists many different regions, each performing different computations, depending on the decision problem and our strategic biases."

Huettel said behavioral economics has not made much progress yet toward understanding individual differences between people. "The decision sciences have provided many good models for how we make choices, but most such models assume that the decision maker is a confident, financially savvy young adult who only attends to self-interest," he said. "People vary dramatically in their cognitive abilities, preferences and emotional states. One important goal for neuroeconomic research is to create flexible and biologically plausible models for decision making. Then we could apply those models in unexpected new directions – for example, knowing that older adults have specific deficits in prefrontal cortex function will allow scientists to predict how they will respond in novel decision situations."

Other authors included James R. Bettman and Mary Frances Luce of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Duke University (all authors are affiliated with the center) and the Fuqua School of Business. Funding for this study came from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health and the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke University Medical Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Vinod Venkatraman, John W. Payne, James R. Bettman, Mary Frances Luce, Scott A. Huettel. Separate Neural Mechanisms Underlie Choices and Strategic Preferences in Risky Decision Making. Neuron, 2009; 62 (4): 593 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.04.007

Cite This Page:

Duke University Medical Center. "Brain Activation Can Predict Strategies People Use To Make Risky Decisions." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 May 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090527121043.htm>.
Duke University Medical Center. (2009, May 28). Brain Activation Can Predict Strategies People Use To Make Risky Decisions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090527121043.htm
Duke University Medical Center. "Brain Activation Can Predict Strategies People Use To Make Risky Decisions." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090527121043.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

Newsy (July 29, 2014) If you've been looking for love online, there's a chance somebody has been looking at how you're looking. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

Newsy (July 29, 2014) Researchers have found certain facial features can make us seem more attractive or trustworthy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

Newsy (July 25, 2014) An online quiz from a required course at Ohio State is making waves for suggesting atheists are inherently smarter than Christians. Video provided by Newsy
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:
from the past week

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