Why losing money may be more painful than you think

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2007-09-19 12:45

Losing money may be intrinsically linked with fear and pain in the brain, scientists have discovered. In a Wellcome Trust study published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers have shown that during a gambling task, losing money activated an area of the brain involved in responding to fear and pain.

"Many everyday financial decisions, such as playing the lottery or investing money are gambles in some form or another, and most of these gambles involve the chances of both gaining and losing money," says Dr Ben Seymour from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London), who led the study. "Although we already know an impressive amount about how the brain learns to predict financial gains, until now, we have known little about how we deal with losing money."

The researchers studied twenty four healthy subjects as they played a gambling game to win money and recorded the activity in the brain throughout the game using an fMRI brain scanner to look for subtle changes in brain activity. They found that the subjects were accurately learning to predict when there was a chance of winning or losing money, and that this learning appeared to occur in a region located deep within the brain, called the striatum.

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