Study Reveals Brain’s Risk-Taking Center

By Ben Hamill - September 28 2018

Experiments performed on two monkeys have helped scientists to pinpoint a small part of the brain that plays a crucial role in decision-making processes. The area could also be responsible for the control of risk-taking impulses, researchers have revealed. Even more exciting was the discovery that once researchers activated the area, the monkeys became less likely to make risky choices compared to safe ones. The report was recently published in the Current Biology Journal, and has come as a promising breakthrough in the development of treatments for a number of human disorders. Veit Stuphorn Co-author of the study Veit Stuphorn has noted that when the area was activated, the apes actually became ‘adverse’ to risk taking. The researchers noted that for decades, people thought that risk-taking was a personality trait that only some people had. However, this research has shown that the same person who is cautious about things like financial investments may also be, say, an ‘avid bungee jumper’.

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Monkeys Always Tempted to Gamble

The study was conducted using two monkeys, who were taught to play a computer game that rewarded them with drops of juice if they won. The researchers revealed that the monkeys enjoyed gambling and participated voluntarily, also noting that there were two potential outcomes in the game. The monkeys would either receive a small amount of juice, or they could gamble to get either plenty of juice or none at all. According to Stuphorn, the monkeys were always tempted to gamble, going for the ‘big win’ each and every time. They also did this regardless of whether or not the guaranteed win option would have provided them with more juice in the long run. The scientists suspected that a specific area of the brain was responsible for these impulsive decisions, noting that it became very active when making the choice over which option to go for. To test this theory, the researchers cooled the part of the brain that was activated while gambling. The monkeys quickly began to play it safe as a result, refusing to take the same gambles they had done previously and opting instead for the guaranteed reward. The team believes that this is at least one way that the brain modulates people’s risk-taking choices, notwithstanding a few other factors. Monkeys Always Tempted to Gamble

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More Research Needed for Humans

Alireza Soltani, a researcher of decision-making at Dartmouth College, added that the monkeys were playing for a drop of juice, which is no big deal. Thus, they took bigger and bigger risks purely to keep the game interesting. Other studies have also shown that people are more likely to be cautious about taking risks when the stakes are proportionately higher. Interestingly, the newly found area of the brain has also been linked to playing a role in eye movement. Gamble Aware and other similar organisations are now launching gambling studies to identify what extra awareness and information is needed to better understand human wagering behavior.