Tuesday, June 15, 2010

MindBlog back in Madison - the anterior insula rests from risk alertness

I'm finally back in my University of Wisconsin office, after a month of mainly being on the road, and I'm very much looking forward to settling in to have more time to read and face the  list of accumulated articles that might be the subjects of blog posts.  No matter how comfortable I think I am feeling while traveling, I still am surprised on the return to familiar settings as I watch the body relax to reveal a stored up tiredness, indicating how much energy was being put into the alertness and vigilance - being poised for the unexpected in foreign settings.

It would appear that my being more alert to risks associated with travel was, according to Mohr et al.,  strenuously exercising my anterior insula:
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.

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