Mohr et al. show that, over a range of experiments and paradigms, risk is consistently represented in the anterior insula, a brain region known to process aversive emotions such as anxiety, disappointment, or regret. This provides further evidence that risk processing is influenced by emotions.
In our everyday life, we often have to make decisions with risky consequences, such as choosing a restaurant for dinner or choosing a form of retirement saving. To date, however, little is known about how the brain processes risk. Recent conceptualizations of risky decision making highlight that it is generally associated with emotions but do not specify how emotions are implicated in risk processing. Moreover, little is known about risk processing in non-choice situations and how potential losses influence risk processing. Here we used quantitative meta-analyses of functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments on risk processing in the brain to investigate (1) how risk processing is influenced by emotions, (2) how it differs between choice and non-choice situations, and (3) how it changes when losses are possible. By showing that, over a range of experiments and paradigms, risk is consistently represented in the anterior insula, a brain region known to process aversive emotions such as anxiety, disappointment, or regret, we provide evidence that risk processing is influenced by emotions. Furthermore, our results show risk-related activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the parietal cortex in choice situations but not in situations in which no choice is involved or a choice has already been made. The anterior insula was predominantly active in the presence of potential losses, indicating that potential losses modulate risk processing.