Neural mechanisms underlying risk and ambiguity attitudes

Neeltje E. Blankenstein, Jiska S. Peper, Eveline A. Crone, Anna C.K. van Duijvenvoorde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Individual differences in attitudes to risk (a taste for risk, known probabilities) and ambiguity (a tolerance for uncertainty, unknown probabilities) differentially influence risky decision-making. However, it is not well understood whether risk and ambiguity are coded differently within individuals. Here, we tested whether individual differences in risk and ambiguity attitudes were reflected in distinct neural correlates during choice and outcome processing of risky and ambiguous gambles. To these ends, we developed a neuroimaging task in which participants (n = 50) chose between a sure gain and a gamble, which was either risky or ambiguous, and presented decision outcomes (gains, no gains). From a separate task in which the amount, probability, and ambiguity level were varied, we estimated individuals’ risk and ambiguity attitudes. Although there was pronounced neural overlap between risky and ambiguous gambling in a network typically related to decision-making under uncertainty, relatively more risk-seeking attitudes were associated with increased activation in valuation regions of the brain (medial and lateral OFC), whereas relatively more ambiguity-seeking attitudes were related to temporal cortex activation. In addition, although striatum activation was observed during reward processing irrespective of a prior risky or ambiguous gamble, reward processing after an ambiguous gamble resulted in enhanced dorsomedial PFC activation, possibly functioning as a general signal of uncertainty coding. These findings suggest that different neural mechanisms reflect individual differences in risk and ambiguity attitudes and that risk and ambiguity may impact overt risk-taking behavior in different ways.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1845-1859
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Volume29
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017

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