Neuroscientists investigate lotteries to study how the brain evaluates risk

In this experiment, the patient chooses which lottery to play while their brain is imaged. Credit: JoVE

People are faced with thousands of choices every day, some inane and some risky. Scientists know that the areas of the brain that evaluate risk are the same for each person, but what makes the value assigned to risk different for individuals? To answer this question, a new video article in Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE) uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to characterize subjective risk assessment while subjects choose between different lotteries to play. The article, a joint effort from laboratories at Yale School of Medicine and New York University, is led by Yale's Dr. Ifat Levy. Dr. Levy explains, "This procedure allows us to examine all kinds of normal and pathological behaviors focusing on risk assessment. It could explain things like substance abuse and over-eating from a different perspective than how it is usually characterized."

The research, funded by the National Institute on Aging, evaluates risk by having individuals choose one of two different lotteries to play. "Economists distinguish between risk, when probabilities are known, and ambiguity, when probabilities are unknown. In real life, most of the situations are a mix between risk and ambiguity. We know that people act differently if results are known than if they are unknown. This is why it is important to look at the decision-making process," Dr. Levy explains. plays into a wide variety of normal decisions and personal encounters. The brain has a consistent pathway to decide everything from "what to have for breakfast" or "where to get gas" to more , like "should I pay for this medicine," or "should I make this investment." This procedure is important because it allows scientists to characterize behavior and could be used to understand normal and pathological behaviors, and to prescribe behavioral or pharmacological treatment to at-.

In each round of the experiment, one lottery stays constant while the other changes three variables: probability of winning the lottery, payout amount for winning the lottery, and ambiguity of winning the lottery. As the subject's choice is recorded, fMRI is used to evaluate stimulation and activity in the risk centers of the brain for each choice. Using statistical analysis, the unique choice behavior of each subject can be identified and expressed.

More information: Levy et. al.: www.jove.com/video/3724/measur… s-using-experimental

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Winning lottery strategy proposed by professor

Jan 10, 2011

The record-breaking $380 million Mega Millions multistate lottery jackpot drawing this week had two winners and may inspire more people to take a chance on being a millionaire.

Recommended for you

The brain treats real and imaginary objects in the same way

33 minutes ago

The human brain can select relevant objects from a flood of information and edit out what is irrelevant. It also knows which parts belong to a whole. If, for example, we direct our attention to the doors of a house, the brain ...

Research suggests brain's melatonin may trigger sleep

2 hours ago

If you walk into your local drug store and ask for a supplement to help you sleep, you might be directed to a bottle labeled "melatonin." The hormone supplement's use as a sleep aid is supported by anecdotal ...

New understanding of stroke damage may aid recovery

2 hours ago

Stroke can lead to a wide range of problems such as depression and difficulty moving, speaking and paying attention. Scientists have thought these issues were caused by damage to the brain's "computer processors"—cells ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.