Friday, April 15, 2016

Brain correlates of how the risk taking of others influences our own risk taking

From Suzuki et al., another upstairs/downstairs story. Risk is represented in the caudate nucleus (downstairs), the risk activity of others is represented in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (upstairs). The strength of the connections between these areas determines how susceptible our behavior is to influence by others.
Our attitude toward risk plays a crucial role in influencing our everyday decision-making. Despite its importance, little is known about how human risk-preference can be modulated by observing risky behavior in other agents at either the behavioral or the neural level. Using fMRI combined with computational modeling of behavioral data, we show that human risk-preference can be systematically altered by the act of observing and learning from others’ risk-related decisions. The contagion is driven specifically by brain regions involved in the assessment of risk: the behavioral shift is implemented via a neural representation of risk in the caudate nucleus, whereas the representations of other decision-related variables such as expected value are not affected. Furthermore, we uncover neural computations underlying learning about others’ risk-preferences and describe how these signals interact with the neural representation of risk in the caudate. Updating of the belief about others’ preferences is associated with neural activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). Functional coupling between the dlPFC and the caudate correlates with the degree of susceptibility to the contagion effect, suggesting that a frontal–subcortical loop, the so-called dorsolateral prefrontal–striatal circuit, underlies the modulation of risk-preference. Taken together, these findings provide a mechanistic account for how observation of others’ risky behavior can modulate an individual’s own risk-preference.

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