Brain response when thinking about gambling or taking risks

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Should you leave your comfortable job for one that pays better but is less secure? Should you have a surgery that is likely to extend your life but poses some risk that you will not survive the operation? Should you invest in a risky startup company whose stock may soar even though you could lose your entire investment? In the Jan. 26 issue of the journal Science, UCLA psychologists present the first neuroscience research comparing how our brains evaluate the possibility of gaining versus losing when making risky decisions.

Participants in the study, mostly UCLA students in their 20s, were given $30 and then asked whether they would agree to each of more than 250 gambles in which they had a 50-50 chance of winning an amount of money or losing another amount of money. Would they, for example, agree to a coin toss in which they could win $30 but lose $20? While the 16 participants were considering the possible wagers, they were in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner at UCLA's Ahmanson

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