News | May 19, 2015

Brain Scans Illuminate Risk-Taking Behaviors

Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute scientists using functional MRI find neural, social signals align in terms of safety, risk

Virginia Tech, Carilion Research Institute, risk, fMRI

May 19, 2015 — In a study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute scientists found our inherent risk-taking preferences affect how we view and act on information from other people. The brain scans showed that study participants increased their perceived value of a gamble after seeing other people take that gamble. The neural signals also predicted the likelihood that participants would conform to others' choices.

The researchers published their findings May 18 in Nature Neuroscience.

"You're more likely to follow the risky decisions of other people if you like to take risks, and you're more likely to follow the cautious decisions of other people if you tend to be cautious," said Pearl Chiu, senior author on the paper and an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. "Our data explain why this happens. The choices that others make become more valuable than they would be otherwise, and our brains are wired to choose things that are more valuable."

In this study, the scientists scanned adult participants' brains as they made gambling choices alone and after seeing what other players picked. Chiu and her team observed that both safe and risky choices of other people influenced participants' choices to be safer or riskier than the choices they made alone.

"It's important to remember that risk isn't inherently bad," said Brooks King-Casas, coauthor on the paper and an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. "Some risks are healthy, like trying out for a team, and some aren't, like using dangerous drugs. Risk is uncertainty, and that appeals to some people more than others."

King-Casas offered the example of a game in which someone has either a guaranteed win of $5 or a 50 percent chance of winning $10 on each turn. On average, players will end up with the same amount of money, but one option offers a certainty the other does not.

"Our preferences about risks extend to the type of peers who are more likely to influence our choices," said King-Casas, who is also an assistant professor in Virginia Tech's Department of Psychology. "This goes beyond negative peer pressure and demonstrates why strong social support systems are effective for encouraging healthy choices."

George Christopoulos, an author on the paper and an assistant professor at Nanyang Business School in Singapore, explained further.

"We've known for a long time that people are influenced by others," he said. "This study offers a systematic experiment as well as a computational model to explain social decision-making."

The science behind choice becomes more complex depending on how much weight someone gives to the decisions of other people.

"No one knows how the gambles will play out, but people still tend to conform with others," said Dongil Chung, a research associate at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and first author on the paper. "The likelihood that you will be nudged depends on how much you value what others say."

The researchers found that this social valuation process occurs in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a brain region known to encode values and rewards.

"The brain starts with your own preferences as a baseline for what to choose, and then, on top of that, the more your brain values information from other people, the more likely you are to follow their choices," said Chiu, who is also an assistant professor in Virginia Tech's Department of Psychology. "At the same time, if the other choices are too different from what you tend to do, your brain also detects that, and may be partly why the same social force is enough to budge some people but not others."

Risk-takers and risk-averse people live in the same world with the same risky and safe information. According to the researchers, it's up to the individual to filter what and how information is actually considered during decision-making processes.

"As a relatively risk-averse person, I can be persuaded by my friends to go hiking," Chung said. "But no one is going to convince me to jump from one rooftop to another. For me, the risk is too extreme. Who you are is as important as who you are with."

For more information: http://research.vtc.vt.edu/ 

Related Content

 Many patients with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) remain unresponsive after surviving critical illness. Investigators led by a team at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) now describe a patient with severe COVID-19 who, despite prolonged unresponsiveness and structural brain abnormalities, demonstrated functionally intact brain connections and weeks later he recovered the ability to follow commands

Getty Images

News | Coronavirus (COVID-19) | July 08, 2020
July 8, 2020 — Many patients with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (...
A patient implanted with the Axonics System can undergo MRI examinations safely with radio frequency (RF) Transmit Body or Head Coil under the conditions outlined in the Axonics MRI Conditional Guidelines.

A patient implanted with the Axonics System can undergo MRI examinations safely with radio frequency (RF) Transmit Body or Head Coil under the conditions outlined in the Axonics MRI Conditional Guidelines.

News | Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) | July 02, 2020
July 2, 2020 — Axonics Modulation Technologies, Inc., a medical technology company that has developed and is commerci
This data represents wave 2 of a QuickPoLL survey conducted in partnership with an imagePRO panel created by The MarkeTech Group (TMTG), regarding the effects of COVID-19 on their business

Getty Images

Feature | Coronavirus (COVID-19) | July 01, 2020 | By Melinda Taschetta-Millane
Researchers reviewed results of prostate biopsies on over 3,400 men who had targets identified on prostate MRI and found that the positive predictive value of the test for prostate cancer was highly variable at different sites
News | Prostate Cancer | July 01, 2020
July 1, 2020 — Prostate MRI is an emerging technology used to identify and guide treatment for...
R2* maps of healthy control participants and participants with Alzheimer disease. R2* maps are windowed between 10 and 50 sec21. Differences in iron concentration in basal ganglia are too small to allow visual separation between patients with Alzheimer disease and control participants, and iron levels strongly depend on anatomic structure and subject age. Image courtesy of Radiological Society of North America

R2* maps of healthy control participants and participants with Alzheimer disease. R2* maps are windowed between 10 and 50 sec21. Differences in iron concentration in basal ganglia are too small to allow visual separation between patients with Alzheimer disease and control participants, and iron levels strongly depend on anatomic structure and subject age. Image courtesy of Radiological Society of North America

News | Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) | July 01, 2020
July 1, 2020 — Researchers using magnetic...
In new QuickPoLL survey on imaging during the pandemic, responses were tallied from around 170 radiology administrators and business managers, who are part of an imagePRO panel created by The MarkeTech Group (TMTG), regarding the effects of COVID-19 on their business. TMTG is a research firm specializing in the medical device, healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.
Feature | Coronavirus (COVID-19) | June 30, 2020 | By Melinda Taschetta-Millane
Cardiac MR can offer data above and beyond anatomical imaging, which is the main reason why this system was installed at Baylor Scott White Heart Hospital in Dallas. The system is a dedicated heart MRI scanner.

Cardiac MR can offer data above and beyond anatomical imaging, which is the main reason why this system was installed at Baylor Scott White Heart Hospital in Dallas. The system is a dedicated heart MRI scanner.

News | Pediatric Imaging | June 29, 2020
June 29, 2020 — A type of smart magnetic r...
Thoracic findings in a 15-year-old girl with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C). (a) Chest radiograph on admission shows mild perihilar bronchial wall cuffing. (b) Chest radiograph on the third day of admission demonstrates extensive airspace opacification with a mid and lower zone predominance. (c, d) Contrast-enhanced axial CT chest of the thorax at day 3 shows areas of ground-glass opacification (GGO) and dense airspace consolidation with air bronchograms. (c) This conformed to a mosai

Thoracic findings in a 15-year-old girl with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C). (a) Chest radiograph on admission shows mild perihilar bronchial wall cuffing. (b) Chest radiograph on the third day of admission demonstrates extensive airspace opacification with a mid and lower zone predominance. (c, d) Contrast-enhanced axial CT chest of the thorax at day 3 shows areas of ground-glass opacification (GGO) and dense airspace consolidation with air bronchograms. (c) This conformed to a mosaic pattern with a bronchocentric distribution to the GGO (white arrow, d) involving both central and peripheral lung parenchyma with pleural effusions (black small arrow, d). image courtesy of Radiological Society of North America

News | Coronavirus (COVID-19) | June 26, 2020
June 26, 2020 — In recent weeks, a multisystem hyperinflammatory condition has emerged in children in association wit
Case abstraction study period was from 10 March to 7 April 2020. Follow-up of abstracted cases was until 7 May 2020.

Case abstraction study period was from 10 March to 7 April 2020. Follow-up of abstracted cases was until 7 May 2020. Courtesy of Nature Medicine

News | Coronavirus (COVID-19) | June 25, 2020
June 25, 2020 — The characterization of COVID-19