Monetary Loss Alters Perceptual Thresholds and Compromises Future Decisions via Amygdala and Prefrontal Networks
Offir Laufer and Rony Paz
J. Neurosci. 2012;32 6304-6311
The influence of monetary loss on decision making and choice behavior is extensively studied. However, the effect of loss on sensory perception is less explored. Here, we use conditioning in human subjects to explore how monetary loss associated with a pure tone can affect changes in perceptual thresholds for the previously neutral stimulus. We found that loss conditioning, when compared with neutral exposure, decreases sensitivity and increases perceptual thresholds (i.e., a relative increase in the just-noticeable-difference). This was so even when compared with gain conditioning of comparable intensity, suggesting that the finding is related to valence. We further show that these perceptual changes are related to future decisions about stimuli that are farther away from the conditioned one (wider generalization), resulting in overall increased and irrational monetary loss for the subjects. We use functional imaging to identify the neural network whose activity correlates with the deterioration in sensitivity on an individual basis. In addition, we show that activity in the amygdala was tightly correlated with the wider behavioral generalization, namely, when wrong decisions were made. We suggest that, in principle, less discrimination can be beneficial in loss scenarios, because it assures an accurate and fast response to stimuli that resemble the original stimulus and hence have a high likelihood of entailing the same outcome. But whereas this can be useful for primary reinforcers that can impact survival, it can also underlie wrong and costly behaviors in scenarios of contemporary life that involve secondary reinforcers.