Neural Correlates of Anticipation Risk Reflect Risk Preferences
Sarah Rudorf, Kerstin Preuschoff, and Bernd Weber
J. Neurosci. 2012;32 16683-16692
Individual risk preferences have a large influence on decisions, such as financial investments, career and health choices, or gambling. Decision making under risk has been studied both behaviorally and on a neural level. It remains unclear, however, how risk attitudes are encoded and integrated with choice. Here, we investigate how risk preferences are reflected in neural regions known to process risk. We collected functional magnetic resonance images of 56 human subjects during a gambling task (Preuschoff et al., 2006). Subjects were grouped into risk averters and risk seekers according to the risk preferences they revealed in a separate lottery task. We found that during the anticipation of high-risk gambles, risk averters show stronger responses in ventral striatum and anterior insula compared to risk seekers. In addition, risk prediction error signals in anterior insula, inferior frontal gyrus, and anterior cingulate indicate that risk averters do not dissociate properly between gambles that are more or less risky than expected. We suggest this may result in a general overestimation of prospective risk and lead to risk avoidance behavior. This is the first study to show that behavioral risk preferences are reflected in the passive evaluation of risky situations. The results have implications on public policies in the financial and health domain.