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Brain Probe Studies Why Gamblers Take Risks

Feb 09, 2010 - by admin
Brain Study shows connection to Gambling

A recent study examined the behavior of two women who, because of a rare genetic disorder, had lesions on a small part of their brain called the amygdala. The study showed that these women were more likely to take big risks than patients with healthy brains. It may provide insight into why some people are less afraid to gamble than others.

BBC: Patients with amygdala injury ‘unafraid’ to gamble

Some scientists in California believe they have pinpointed the part of the human brain makes people afraid to lose money. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined two patients who had damaged their amygdala, a special area deep within the brain.

The study showed that these patients were less worried about financial losses than the volunteers they were compared with whose amygdalae were intact. They use the term ‘loss aversion’ which describes the avoidance of choices which can lead to losses, even when those losses are clearly accompanied by gains which offset them.

The lead author, Dr Benedetto De Martino, explains things in terms of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, suggesting that many people would rather walk away with the prize they have than risk dropping to a lower level in order to try and win more.

During the study, participants were offered a series of tests to look at whether the chance of losing money had an effect on their willingness to take risks. The study found that healthy volunteers only decide to gamble if the gains were one and a half to two times the size of the potential losses.

Conversely, patients whose amygdalae were damaged were more reckless, playing even on poorer ratios between gains and losses.

John Aggleton, Professor of Psychology at Cardiff University, said: “Most people have been found to have a bias against losses, but this study shows very clearly that when the amygdala is damaged, this “loss aversion” disappears.”

The Independent: Genetic disorder turns risk-averse into gamblers

The brains of people who take big risks while gambling may differently than those of naturally cautious people, according to a new study that may have discovered a neurological basis for reckless behaviour.

The study found that people were more likely to engage in high-risk gambling when a specific area of their brain had been damaged due to a result of a rare genetic disorder. These individuals lacked the natural aversion to losing something of value that many are born with.

Tests on two women who had suffered damage this part of their brain, called the amygdala, revealed that they were less afraid to lose money in high-risk gambling situations compared to individuals with no such damage to their brain.

The amygdala is a small almond-shaped structure deep inside the brain. It is referred to as the “seat of fear” because of its central role in controlling this emotion. It is an ancient area of the brain that existed long before the outer “higher cortex” evolved.

“It may be that the amygdala controls a very general biological mechanism for inhibiting risky behaviour when outcomes are potentially negative, such as the monetary loss aversion which shapes our everyday financial decisions,” said Benedetto De Martino, a researcher at University College London.

Loss aversion behaviour is biologically important because it helps us consider the options involved in potentially life-threatening decisions. Today, it manifests itself in much different ways.

Reuters: Study shows why it is so scary to lose money

A recent study examined two women with brain lesions that made them unafraid to take big risks when gambling. It showed that the amygdala, the brain’s fear center, becomes active when people think about losing money.

The findings of the study were reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The report suggests that humans may have evolved to be cautious about the possibility of losing food or other valued possessions.

Benedetto De Martinoa of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and University College of London were exploring why people will turn down big gambles, even when the gamble is likely to lead to an even bigger gain.

“Laboratory and field evidence suggests that people often avoid risks with losses even when they might earn a substantially larger gain, a behavioral preference termed ‘loss aversion’,” they wrote.

“We think this shows that the amygdala is critical for triggering a sense of caution toward making gambles in which you might lose,” Colin Camerera of University College London, who worked in the study, said in a statement.

The study may assist researchers in understanding why some people are more willing to take risks than others.

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