How the brain learns to estimate risk

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Washington, Mar 13 : Don't blame your stars after losing a good amount of money in a game of poker, for the real culprit behind the plot is your bad brainwaves, says a new study.

Researchers at the Federal Polytechnic University in Lausanne said that they've identified a specific area of the brain that's active when people underestimate risk.

The researchers imaged the brain of people performing a simple gambling task in which the element of risk was constantly changing.

The researchers discovered that people whose anterior insula region of the brain was activated early were more likely to be bad at predicting risk.

The time course of the activation also indicated a role in rapid updating, suggesting that this area is involved in how we learn to modify our risk predictions.

The finding was particularly interesting, notes lead author and EPFL professor Peter Bossaerts, because the anterior insula is the locus of where we integrate and process emotions.

"This represents an important advance in our understanding of the neurological underpinnings of risk, in analogy with an earlier discovery of a signal for forecast error in the dopaminergic system, and indicates that we need to update our understanding of the neural basis of reward anticipation in uncertain conditions to include risk assessment," Bossaerts said.

The research will shed light on why certain kinds of risk, notably financial risk, are often underestimated, and whether abnormal behavior such as addiction (e.g. to gambling or drugs) could be caused by an erroneous evaluation of risk.

The study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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