Risk-taking linked to particular brain features

January 28, 2021

Risky behaviors such as smoking, alcohol and drug use, speeding, or frequently changing sexual partners result in enormous health and economic consequences and lead to associated costs of an estimated 600 billion dollars a year in the US alone. In order to define measures that could reduce these costs, a better understanding of the basis and mechanisms of risk-taking is needed.

Functional and anatomical differences

UZH neuro-economists Goekhan Aydogan, Todd Hare and Christian Ruff, together with an international research team looked at the genetic characteristics that correlate with risk-taking behavior. Using a representative sample of 25,000 people, the researchers examined the relationship between individual differences in brain anatomy and the propensity to engage in risky behavior. "We found both functional and anatomical differences," says Goekhan Aydogan.

Various areas of the brain involved

Specific characteristics were found in several areas of the brain: In the hypothalamus, where the release of hormones (such as orexin, oxytocin and dopamine) controls the vegetative functions of the body; in the hippocampus, which is essential for storing memories; in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which plays an important role in self-control and cognitive deliberation; in the amygdala, which controls, among other things, the emotional reaction to danger; and in the ventral striatum, which is activated when processing rewards.

The researchers were surprised by the measurable anatomical differences they discovered in the cerebellum, an area that is not usually included in studies of risk behaviors on the assumption that it is mainly involved in fine motor functions. In recent years, however, significant doubts have been raised about this hypothesis - doubts which are now backed by the current study. "It appears that the cerebellum does after all play an important role in decision-making processes such as risk-taking behavior," confirms Aydogan. "In the brains of more risk-tolerant individuals, we found less gray matter in these areas. How this gray matter affects behavior, however, still needs to be studied further."

Several influencing factors studied in combination for the first time

The study breaks new ground in several regards. It is the first time that the foundations of risk-taking behavior have been investigated with such a large and representative sample. It is also the first study to examine possible influencing factors - genetic predisposition and differences in anatomy and function of brain areas - in combination rather than in isolation. At present, it is still unclear to what extent the connection between genetic disposition and neurobiological expression is causal, stresses Aydogan: "How exactly the interplay of environment and genes determines risk-taking requires further research."
-end-


University of Zurich

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.